Science

The search for cosmic company goes on

Cross-posted on Huffington Post When 2009 TED Prize winner Jill Tarter wished to “empower Earthlings everywhere to become active participants in the ultimate search for cosmic company,” we looked to the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array (ATA).

With this telescope, Jill’s vision, and the power of open-source initiatives, we were able to globalize the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Because we don’t know what a new signal will look like, it’s hard to create an algorithm to find it, and our own eyes actually work better than computers.

Regrettably, recent shortfalls in operations funding have put the Allen Telescope Array into a state of hibernation. While fundraising efforts are under way to remedy this situation, we must acknowledge this serious blow to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. There is, however, one silver lining: over the past two years, the ATA has stored many terabytes of data in the Amazon Web Services Cloud, and a significant signal might be hidden amid this information.

Working together, and sorting through this data, we could still find it!

In collaboration with Zooniverse, a site that has launched many other citizen science projects -– inspiring volunteers to classify galaxies, explore the Moon and even to discover planets around other stars -– millions of people will soon be able to search the ATA data in hopes of finding a signal.

I can’t express how excited I am that Zooniverse will be working with Jill Tarter and the SETI Institute to develop a project that will unlock the secrets of the ATA archive. And when the ATA comes back online, the volunteers can work alongside Jill’s team in real time to sort through much more data — data that contains so many signals, it actually confuses the computers.

While the project will require some time before it’s up and running, I urge each of you to get ready to share your eyes … and help dig for a signal.

– Amy Novogratz