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E.T., modem home ...

March 16, 2003|Carolyn Patricia Scott

Listening for signs of intelligent life in space is no longer a pastime that requires proximity to an array of antennas aimed at the stars. And it needn't take the scientific dedication of Jodie Foster's character (remember Dr. Ellie Arroway?) in "Contact." Now you, too, can SETI -- search for extraterrestrial intelligence -- at home.

Millions of volunteers are signing on to their computers in a coordinated effort called SETI@ home to review interstellar radio signal data. (Tune in at setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu.)

With a few mouse clicks you can join the folks who are trying to tap E.T.'s line to determine which, among the 5 billion radio transmissions that have been monitored by the network of volunteers in past years, might be a message from an extraterrestrial.

Scientists involved in the project have narrowed the field of transmissions in order to concentrate on the most likely suspects, though even SETI@home's chief scientist, Dan Werthimer, admitted that the chances of making contact "are small." But, he added optimistically, "you have to plan for success."

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