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If you've seen such sci-fi movies as The Arrival, Independence Day, or Contact, you already know about an organization called SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). It is an international group of scientists and others who, for the most part, use radio telescopes to monitor the heavens in search of radio signals generated not by natural phenomena, but broadcast artificially by intelligent beings from other worlds. So far, no clearly artificial extraterrestrial radio signals have been confirmed, but SETI personnel keep searching. The SETI project got a large boost recently when Paul Allen, one of the co-founders of Microsoft, committed $12.5 million to the project. The new instrument to be built exclusively for SETI will be called the Allen Telescope Array.

We'll take a closer look at SETI and other efforts to make contact in Chapter 23, "Moving Out of Town," but if you are interested in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, you don't have to just read about it, you can actually participate in it.

A few highly committed amateur radio astronomers have built SETI-capable radio telescopes and spend time searching for artificial signals of extraterrestrial origin. If you're not up to making such a commitment, the SETI Institute is developing an alternative. In a project called [email protected], a special kind of screensaver program (a program that, typically, puts up a pretty, animated picture on your PC monitor when the computer is idle) has been installed on over 1.5 million computers in 224 countries. When the computer is idle, this program will use the time to go to work analyzing data from four million different combinations of frequency bandwidth and drift rate recorded by the world's largest radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico. With thousands of computers crunching this data, the SETI Institute believes that it can analyze data more quickly, thereby increasing the chances of ferreting out a radio signal from an intelligent source. Information on [email protected] can be found on the Net at www.seti-inst.edu.

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