Friday, April 25, 2008

Un-Illegal Aliens

The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (S.E.T.I.) has one job. It looks for non-natural signals originating from somewhere other than Earth. If they find signals, they know something, somewhere created them. In theory that "something" is an intelligent lifeform of some sort. S.E.T.I. has been looking at the sky since 1984. Almost a quarter of a century. And they have announced no significant findings. Not one.

SETI@Home is a "distributed computing" project where people donate the spare computational power of their computers to help sift through mountains of received radio signals from space and look for an intelligent needle in that cosmic haystack. The project has been running since 1995. Since that time, three million people from 256 different countries have contributed to the project. I am one of them. I joined on May 19, 1999. I've contributed a combined total of 142,546 hours toward the project. Almost 54B (yes, billion!) signals have been processed by the project in the past decade. But again, they have announced no significant findings. And I've wasted 142,546 hours searching.

Just to further elaborate on the depth of my futility, out of the 1,347,304 active users, I am the #8258 top contributor. That puts me in the top 0.6% of all time. And in the ranks of most prolific daily contributors, out of 1,347,304, I am currently #1416. That means I'm in the current top 0.1% of all active contributors. Which is no small feat. And makes the lack of a discovery all the more bitter.

The scope of the failure is rarely mentioned, only the efforts that have gone into it. The problem is that unless "intelligent life" is purposely hiding from us (a possibility) we can safely say we have no neighbors within twenty five light years of Earth. Not good. Even if we found a signal today, and we replied immediately, our neighbors wouldn't get the call for at least twenty five years. And it would take us another twenty five years to hear their reply.

Twenty five years to say, "Hello?"

Twenty five years to respond, "Is E.T. there?"

And we've been beaming our own signals into space since the 1936. That's when Hitler televised the Berlin Olympics. That means our sporting events have potentially reaching anyone between Germany and Zeta Leporis. Unfortunately, we've been broadcasting for 72yrs, without anyone getting back in touch with us.

If nothing else, I want to cling to this mortal coil until we've confirmed we are not alone in this universe. But we know we've got at least twenty five light years worth of silence to overcome. And the gap grows wide each second.

If I don't do it this May 19th (9 years) I'm going to throw in the towel next year. A fruitless decade of looking at the sky and asking, "Is anybody out there?"

Very depressing.

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