Search For Aliens – From Your Personal Computer!


Have you ever wondered how to find aliens or how to search for extraterrestrials? I am going to show you one way of finding aliens! We all have at least one Laptop or Desktop personal computer and most of us don’t use it for 24 hours. We can make use of this idle computer, to do some social contribution or help in scientific research. You just have to contribute your computer’s idle time and its computing power as a volunteer. This article covers how to contribute this idle computing power for the research of finding Aliens! List of other scientific causes where you can contribute in this same way, are listed at the end of this article.

These are the things, you will need to participate in this volunteer contribution:

  • A modern personal computer
  • Reasonably fast and stable internet connection
  • Electricity while you use your computer for this purpose in its idle time

Today’s personal computers are much more powerful than their predecessors. But any single computer can not provide enough power required for any scientific computing. Hence all these volunteer computers are connected in a grid which in turn forms a virtual super computer combining power of all those individual personal computers.

To realize this virtual supercomputer we make use of Grid Computing and Distributed Computing concepts. Distributed Computing means all computers connected in a single network perform a given task by communicating with each other. Many such distributed computing sets from different locations are connected together to form a Grid, which is known as Grid Computing.

The project in which we are going to participate as volunteers to find the aliens is called as SETI@home. SETI in Seti at home stands for Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence.

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Many space observatories from various countries are listening to Radio Signals from outer space. David Gedye proposed to process this radio signal data by creating a grid of personal computers from all over the planet to speed up and increase efficiency of this data processing. He organised the SETI@home project. SETI@home started in May 1999. It is hosted at Space Sciences Laboratory, The University of California, Berkely.

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SETI@home is a online volunteer grid computing project with primary aim to search for Extraterrestrials.

General outline of the project:

  1. SETI@home project receives radio waves data from Arecibo Radio Telescope and Green Bank Radio Telescope.
  2. SETI@home then processes this data and converts it into small pieces of data units (tasks) which can then be further processed by individual volunteer computers from all over the world.
  3. SETI@home server sends these tasks to all volunteer computers connected in this grid
  4. Volunteer computer submits the result back to SETI@server once they are done processing their assigned tasks.

Your computer’s work is to check if received task data has the expected Signal from Aliens as per given algorithm and / or rules. This article does not cover which data means a signal from extraterrestrials, since its out of scope here.

Connecting to SETI@home server, downloading all the tasks, processing the data and submitting it back to SETI@home server once its done and to do all these tasks automatically without your manual intervention each time, you have to install a software for this purpose.

The software is known as Berkeley Open Infrastructure Network Computing (BOINC). BOINC is Open Source Volunteer Grid Computing Application. It is a Free and Open Source Software developed originally by a team at Space Sciences Laboratory, The University of California, Berkeley. Today, both BOINC and SETI@home project are headed by David Anderson.

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You can contribute to SETI@home as well as many other scientific and social volunteer grid computing projects using BOINC. Here we will see how to use it to contribute to SETI@home.

How to Install BOINC:

  1. Download the correct installer for your Operating System from http://boinc.berkeley.edu/download.php .On Windows you can install it as usual by doubly clicking on this installer. On Linux you should install from the official repository of your distribution. Search for BOINC package.You have to do one time configuration of BOINC where you can configure various options e.g. Time when BOINC will use your computing to process data, Time when BOINC will connect to Internet to download tasks, when shall BOINC start the processing after your computer goes Idle etc. Following screenshot uses simple view of the BOINC software version 7.6.31.
  2. After starting BOINC, you can choose your preferred project to volunteer on the first screen itself
  3. Scroll down projects list and select SETI@home. You can see its description and link on the right side.
  4. Click Next button to start connection to SETI server
  5. You will have to login on this screen. Create new account here itself by entering your email and password
  6. Your preferred project will added to your account after login
  7. Click on Finish button. It will take you to Main screen. It will show you all selected projects. We selected only SETI@home. BOINC is now connected to SETI server and waiting for next instructions and data.
  8. BOINC is downloading tasks from SETI servers
  9. You will receive notices from SETI server time to time. BOINC will highlight Notices button when you have new notice.
  10. Click on Notices button to read latest updates and notices
  11. Open Options -> Computing Preferences menu to set various BOINC configuration options such as how much time your computer will work on these tasks, when it will upload the result, should it work when Laptop is on battery power etc
  12. Select “Computer Only Between” option to set BOINC to use your computer only between specific time of the day. Enter time in 24 hour format.
  13. Select “Transfer Files Only Between” to set the time of upload. Your computer will upload the result to SETI server only in this time period. Use 24 hour format. Below this option, you can set how much disk space BOINC should use.
  14. Use Options -> Other Options menu to set language, HTTP & SOCKS Proxy. If you are not using any of the proxy then you do not have to configure it here.
  15. To check the logs of all activities and work done by BOINC software, open Tools -> Event Log menu.
  16. BOINC is ready to start work as per your configured time and resources. While exiting you can choose if you want it to continue running tasks in background or stop all tasks processing after exiting.

In Linux if you choose to stop all tasks after exiting, that kills the BOINC daemon too. You can later on start it using “boinc” command.

Detailed Installation Help at:
http://boinc.berkeley.edu/wiki/Installing_BOINC

BOINC user manual:
http://boinc.berkeley.edu/wiki/User_manual

If you are going to contribute to many projects using your BOINC, then BOINC account manager can help you manage all those projects better. Click Here to read more about BOINC Account Manager.

Volunteers receive Credit Points for working on various BOINC projects. Know more about BOINC Credit Points at:
http://boinc.berkeley.edu/wiki/Computation_credit

You can also form your own team or be part of another team to make this volunteering experience interesting. To read more about BOINC teams please visit
http://boinc.berkeley.edu/wiki/Teams

Other BOINC Projects:
Click Here to get list of all BOINC projects. BOINC has projects in various fields such as Physics, Mathematics, Cancer Research, Biology, Astronomy, Planets, Comets and more.

Some popular projects in BOINC:

  • Climate Prediction: hosted at climateprediction.net to research global weather and its study.
  • ROSETTA@home: a research project to study proteins and their design. Also works on finding cure to various diseases.
  • Similarity Matrix of Proteins (SIMAP): a database of protein sequence and their similarities
  • EINSTEIN@home: to find gravitational waves coming from neutron stars
  • Malaria Control – Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute launched this project to study spreading of Malaria and its effect

Note: BOINC is available for Android OS too. Read more at http://boinc.berkeley.edu/wiki/Android_FAQ

Credits:

Header Image: The Galactic Centre above the ESO 3.6-metre telescope
Logos of SETI@home, BOINC and Space Sciences Laboratory are Copyrights of those organizations respectively and used here as Fair Use only for Identification purpose.

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