SETI@home to shut down after two decades of crowdsourced alien hunting

The program let anyone with an internet connection search for E.T. Now it says its work is done.

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Eric Mack
2 min read

The Green Bank radio telescope listens to fast radio bursts in this illustration.

Danielle Futselaar/Breakthrough Listen

After March 31, a bunch of amateur alien hunters will regain some personal computing power. The Berkeley SETI Research Center announced Monday that SETI@home, the two-decades-old crowdsourcing effort to hunt for signs of E.T. in radio telescope data using internet-connected computers, is shutting down at the end of the month.

The home-based search for extraterrestrial intelligence project was launched from University of California, Berkeley, back in 1999 -- when the internet was still a relatively new thing to many people and the term crowdsourcing had not yet been coined. 


The classic graphics from the SETI@home program


Prior to SETI@home, radio telescopes would collect massive amounts of noisy data that would then need to be analyzed using supercomputers to see if there might be a signal from distant civilizations amid all the noise. 

SETI@home works a little bit like bitcoin mining: Volunteers install a free computer program that downloads and crunches data in the background around the clock. The difference being that there is no currency produced as a reward, except for the satisfaction of helping your fellow humans navigate the vast cosmos, in a way.

Now the SETI@home team says it's time to shut the whole thing down and focus on compiling the results from the project. 

"Scientifically, we're at the point of diminishing returns; basically, we've analyzed all the data we need for now," reads a post to the SETI@home website and forum. "It's a lot of work for us to manage the distributed processing of data. We need to focus on completing the back-end analysis of the results we already have, and writing this up in a scientific journal paper."

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The team says the website and forums will remain online and that other astronomers might be able to take advantage of the program's computing power for other research projects into things like pulsars or cosmology. 

While SETI@home may be going away, the search for alien intelligence continues to heat up with newer initiatives like Breakthrough Listen. And the platform that powered it, known as BOINC, already underlies a number of other crowd-powered projects that help scientists study everything from climate and molecular biology to the many other mysteries of space. 

The truth is still out there, even if your processor isn't actively helping the search anymore. 

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