Called SETI Live, the new project reduces the hunt for intelligent life on other planets to a kind of game — sort of a mix between Foursquare and Where’s Waldo. Once you log on and take a brief tutorial, the site flashes snapshots of radio-signal data. Then it’s your job to identify any suspicious patterns you may spot — a straight line among a sea of random streaks could be ET trying to say hello.
Do it long enough and you’ll earn special badges.
The SETI program searches the heavens for extraterrestrials via radio telescopes, examining tiny slices of the sky, one at a time, for signals that might have been produced by a civilization elsewhere in the galaxy. This generates mountains of radio-signal data to sift through — too much for the SETI program to handle itself, especially since public funding has been virtually nonexistent for the past 20 years, and securing private investment has been a challenge as well.
You may have heard of SETI@Home — an app that anyone can download that will lend their PC’s processing power to SETI when it’s not being used. Whereas that program is passive, SETI Live is a way for enthusiasts to actively help in the search for the answer to the question, “Are we alone?” It also has the bonus of not requiring any software installation.
In our brief hands-on, we found the tutorial to be a little vague at times, but thankfully short. We got the hang of spotting patterns pretty quickly, though, and blazed through several data screens in the hunt for aliens. It gets boring mighty fast, though — it would be served better if they could somehow mix up the data or activities, or even simply change the color of some of the screens. Be warned: it doesn’t appear to be compatible with Google Chrome (Firefox had no problems).