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[email protected] no longer

Paul Brislen. 08 June 2020, 5:00 am

It's the end of an era: the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence ([email protected]) project is closing down its crowdsourcing model after 20 years.

The project, run out of University of California, Berkley, began in the late 1990s when scientists bemoaning the lack of processor time available to crunch the data from thousands of hours of radio telescope time turned to the internet for help. By launching a screen saver that would take over a user's computer whenever it activated, the project made use of PC downtime to scan through the data and report back to base.

The data has been collected for years by two of the world's most powerful radio telescopes - the famous Arecibo Radio Telescope and the Green Bank Telescope. When astronomers are using the arrays for other research, the [email protected] team would piggyback on the research, by copying it, breaking it into chunks and sending it out to a volunteer army across the globe, including this reporter.

Originally the project hoped to attract 50,000 to 100,000 participants but in the end more than five million users signed up and regularly used the software. In 2008 the project was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as home to the world's single largest computation.

"Scientifically, we're at the point of diminishing returns; basically, we've analyzed all the data we need for now," say the project leaders in a post on its website.

"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."

While [email protected] may have shut up shop the software lives on with numerous projects now using the BOINC manager software, including [email protected], which hopes to plot near earth objects to create a more complete map of those asteroids that may pose a risk to the planet.


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