SETI opens up its data to 'citizen scientists'
2010-02-12 0:00

By Amanda Gefter |

You are officially invited to join the search for extraterrestrial life. And no, that doesn't mean you should head to Kansas and lie in a cornfield awaiting the mothership to scoop you up. All you have to do is log on to, which went live on Wednesday. The site's launch was announced at the TED 2010 conference currently underway in Long Beach, California.

SETIQuest is the product of astronomer Jill Tarter's TED Prize wish. After being awarded the TED Prize last year, Tarter was given the opportunity to make a single wish before an auditorium full of the top names in technology and design. Tarter wished that they would "empower Earthlings everywhere to become active participants in the ultimate search for cosmic company".

With SETIQuest, Tarter and TED are making that happen. The website will make vast amounts of SETI data available to the public for the first time. It will also publish the SETI Institute's signal-detection algorithm as open source code, inviting brilliant coders and amateur techies to make it even better.

"With available cloud storage and processing resources, we can provide digital signal processing experts and students with a lot of raw data and invite them to develop new algorithms that can find other types of signals that we are now missing," the website explains.

Even if you're not a coder, you can still take the opportunity to search for ET using nothing more than the naked eye. "Citizen scientists" can visually search the data for anything that looks suspiciously like something other than white noise. Should you spot something anomalous, alert the global community. If enough citizen scientists agree that something looks fishy, their collective concern will direct SETI's telescopes to zoom in on the questionable patch of sky.

Who knows you just might play a part in a discovery that changes history.

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