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back to article Brits: Give us £1m and we'll build a crack ALIEN-HUNTING TEAM

A group of British scientists have launched a new mission to find signs of extraterrestrial life way out in the depths of space. Boffins from 11 different universities and scientific bodies have joined forces to organise a search for little green men. The group - called the UK Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) …

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Seti@home

Couldn't they use some of the money to develop their own version of Seti@home so they don't

need to spend a shedload of cash on a huge server-farm to sift through all that data ?

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Alien

Re: Seti@home

Why re-invent the wheel? They could just sign up as a BOINC project - http://boinc.berkeley.edu/

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Joke

@malle

"so they don't need to spend a shedload of cash on a huge server-farm to sift through all that data ?"

Nah, I'll bet they need that money to buy themselves the rights to call this new alien hunting bureau 'Torchwood'.

Runs good with the public so money well spent don't you think? ;-)

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Re: Seti@home

Couldn't they use some of the money to develop their own version of Seti@home ....

First catch your data.

(Since without that the compute power is irrelevant.)

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Re: Seti@home

Maybe if the Boinc project kept the versions of the client software up to date for everyone it would be more helpful.

For the last month our OS/2 servers haven't been number crunching for them because they have changed something and require an updated client version which isn't available for OS/2

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Trollface

Re: Seti@home

the most wtf part of your comment is not the out of date client software, but the fact that you still have OS/2 servers.....

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Re: Seti@home

@Chris Thomas Alpha

The thing is that they just work. The last time I rebooted one was over three years ago and that was because of a mechanical failure - both power supplies died.

As a matter of fact I know of several large companies that are still using OS/2 on their back end servers for exactly the same reason - they don't give problems.

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Facepalm

Re: Seti@home

That may be true but it's extremely expensive to do anything about it if they *do* go wrong. Your CIO either has balls of steel or [s]he's an idiot.

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WTF?

Re: Seti@home

OS/2 servers? Are you running a Boinc client at a Bank?

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WTF?

Re: Seti@home

Really still running OS/2?

Lordy...The sooner we find intelligent life out there the better.

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Re: intelligence@home

The money would be better spent trying to create intelligent life on earth.

The idea that intelligent aliens would broadcast their presence to lord-knows-whom is absurd. The first thing a sentient life form does is to hide it's presence from potential preditors. Intelligent aliens are unlikely to reveal themselves to us until we show such signs, such as ceasing to broadcast our TV and other electronic garbage into space.

Intelligent aliens know that the first thing that primitive man would want to do with them is kill them, and the next is to cut them up and see how they work. (Hopefully most of us have got past the stage of wanting to eat them.)

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Re: Seti@home

@The Vociferous Time Waster

I am intrigued, in what way would it be extremely expensive? The hardware can and has been replaced, all that was necessary to do was to tweak an image on the image server and load it to the new server. Total down time was the time to physically replace the failed server plus the time to copy over the OS/2 disk image, the new server then carried on from where the old one left off.

If you are thinking about the cost of employing someone that knows about OS/2. I admit it was one of my concerns, so much so that I set up a training unit in house so that problem is solved. My biggest problem is finding something for our two IT staff to do ;)

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Re: Seti@home

@AlexS

Why shouldn't we be still running OS/2? Most servers that take the back end load are over specified for what they do when what is really needed is reliability and up time.

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Re: intelligence@home

The idea that intelligent aliens would broadcast their presence to lord-knows-whom is absurd.

Not really. Think about it: the distances are so vast that even the most aggressive alien race imaginable (perhaps a Space Ork with rabies) isn't a credible threat unless they can cheat the laws of physics. Yes, that's theoretically possible, if a lot of our assumptions are true, but even the theoretical scenarios involve absolutely absurd quantities of energy.

I also disagree that we'd kill and dissect an alien. That's fodder for fiction. In reality, our governments would treat them like any other foreign nation, I think. Well, maybe like they treat North Korea if they were being paranoid.

Personally what worries me about any possible contact with aliens is that they may have been watching our broadcasts for the last 70 years or so but may lack any concept of fiction. Chew on that one for a few minutes and consider just how confused they'd be about us after watching Gunsmoke, Sesame Street, Star Trek, and Charmed, thinking it was all true.

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Alien

Concept of fiction? Re: intelligence@home

Well, I'd speculate that fiction is essential for intelligence. Isn't the basis of intelligence modeling the external environment, predicting the results of changing parameters and selecting a desirable outcome?

Come to think of it, lack of ability to identify fiction might explain why teenagers get locked up for rants online.

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Re: Concept of fiction? intelligence@home

Isn't the basis of intelligence modeling the external environment, predicting the results of changing parameters and selecting a desirable outcome?

Well yes, but there's a big difference between that and making up stories for entertainment value. In fact, it's not hard to imagine a highly intelligent race for whom the entire idea of entertainment, including the concept of fiction, is entirely alien. Such a race could easily assume that even our most fantastic TV shows are historical documentaries or serve some educational value. The idea that we watch these shows to stave off boredom would never occur to a race that doesn't experience boredom or doesn't find it unpleasant. That's what I mean by lacking any concept of fiction.

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Joke

It's the wrong searchj

Instead of looking for aliens in space they should be asking the truly pivotal question: where can I get a really good cup of tea?

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Trollface

Re: It's the wrong searchj

The nearest NutriMatic machine is at Barnard's Star

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Facepalm

"And think about the implications of that: if we're alone in the Universe then the whole purpose in the universe is in us."

Imagine that. Screw up a bit and suddenly there's an entiere universe being a massive failure. This kind of sentiment is appropriate for the toy universes of 2500 years ago

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Ru
Flame

Personally, I'd be more keen on funding going towards ensuring we don't get smashed by an asteroid any time soon. Because if we do happen to be the only intelligent things around, it would be a bit of a waste if we were squished because we were looking for little green men instead of big grey rocks.

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Asteroids

I was having a discussion a while ago about why an advanced civilization would want to broadcast large amounts of radio power; the best answer we could think of was asteroid radar.(http://http://echo.jpl.nasa.gov/)

Keeping track of them as a spacefaring species would be as vital as nautical charts to seafarers.

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Facepalm

" And think about the implications of that: if we're alone in the Universe then the whole purpose in the universe is in us."

How the fuckety fuck does that even follow? Does the Universe have a purpose? It could be the equivalent of $DEITYs old tire dropped by some $OLYMPIC roadside for what we know (a reverse Roadside Picnic?)

These non-hivemind flesher Turing Machines are just so full of themselves. The future shurely lies with collective intelligences (i.e. insects), as Charlie Stross predicts.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: future shurely lies with collective intelligences

We (humans) are a collective intelligence, even if not as "collective" as insects. Although not particularly physically specialized, or collectivized, most of the human population would fail in short order were our natural collective behavior to cease; which at the very least would render most of our specialized intellectual and/or cultural abilities almost entirely useless.

Although I admit that the Stross prediction seems very plausible, I wonder what sort of ghastly cockups an insect-like collective intelligence might imagine or perpetrate? Perhaps their specialised forecasters would worry about the flexibility of more individualistic creatures, and their rapidly adaptable cultural and technological organization? Or should we both be worrying about something else, something which renders arguments about the degree of collectivity (or skeletal configuration :-)) largely irrelevant?

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Holmes

Re: future shurely lies with collective intelligences

We cannot know....

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Waste of time

Whilst the idea of search for other life is quite intriguing, what are the chances of alien civilisations randomly broadcasting near continous, noisy, unencrypted radio signals that we can actually detect and understand?

I'd have thought that what this (and most other alien detection plans) are searching for is any civilisation within a development window of at most a couple of centuries out of several to many millennia, as it is too heavily dependant upon detecting the sort of EMR that our current technology happens to spatter indiscriminately around.

I'm guessing this means they would be cutting the probability of finding anything down to infinitesimal?

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Re: Waste of time

would certainly like to see an estimate of that probability.

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Childcatcher

Re: Waste of time

Perhaps this should be looked at through the lens of another search: the search for xenoplanets. Before they were first found, there were plenty of people who thought that our solar system was rare in the universe, at best. Now, it is well established that star systems with planets are common and our astronomers are trying to identify those that fall in the so-called Goldilocks Zone (which may provide for better targeting for SETI).

As far as the search for extraterrestrial technologies are concerned, I wouldn't bet against given the odds. There are an astronomical (yes, I did that) number of stars out there with planets that might support life. When multiplied with even an infinitesimally small possibility of finding some neighbors to talk to, I feel it is very likely that we will find out whether they have interesting things in their garden sheds real soon.

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Re: Waste of time

what are the chances of alien civilisations randomly broadcasting near continous, noisy, unencrypted radio signals that we can actually detect and understand?

The Earth has been broadcasting non-random, continuous, noisy, unencrypted radio signals for about 100 years.

You don't need to understand them - just detect the non-random nature.

If I pick up some foreign radio station on Earth I can't (usually) understand it, but I can detect that it isn't random.

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Alien

For some reason, probably my "country" upbringing, the phrase "Alien Hunting" is conjuring an image of fat men with red faces and blazers on horses, drinking whiskey and shouting "Tallyho!" as they storm over fences, preceded by a couple of hundred squawking beagles, which sound an awful lot like seals when you get a lot of them together.

All this while, Roger the Alien is four fields away, disguised as an old lady.

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Human Pop fans?

But what if E.T. is into Dubstep instead?

Ah. We'd probably dismiss it as a wonky Pulsar or something.

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Anonymous Coward

Jodrell built MERLIN/e-MERLIN - they didn't "join" it

"Jodrell Bank has now joined up with a network of seven radio telescopes across Britain in the e-Merlin project to research important scientific phenomena such as the formation of stars and black holes. The telescopes are connected to Jodrell Bank by a superfast optical fibre network, effectively allowing them to work simultaneously. The network has just come online."

Jodrell boffins built e-MERLIN; the "e-" indicates the recent fibre-linked upgrade (=much greater bandwidth) to the original radio-linked MERLIN which dates back to the late '70s and '80s, when four new radio telescopes were added to the existing long-baseline interferometers.

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Anonymous Coward

And think about the implications of that: if we're alone in the Universe then the whole purpose in the universe is in us

Assuming there is (a) purpose is his first mistake.

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Of course we are not alone

There are hundreds of crazy people who have been abducted and analy probed by aliens (or perhaps they are crazy because of the anal probing) , they insist they (aliens) are out there but we have picked up no obvious radio emissions from these alien anal aficionados.

That could be because we are looking in the wrong places for their communications, for all we know they might use modulated gravity waves or something we can't even guess at, aliens by definition will have alien culture and alien technology, it could be that bottom bothering is their attempt at communicating with us.

In which case they can bugger off!

Incidentally, tea is a fundamental part of the search for intelligent life!

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Re: Of course we are not alone

It'd be a real hoot if it turned out that the universal communication method is spectroscopic modulation, and all those deep space signals we've been studying to determine the nature of the Universe were really the glactic equivalent of old "I love Lucy" reruns.

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Alien

But if we don't snoop on the Universe then the aliens win!

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Alien

Non random signals from far away

OK, so assuming that we can tell the difference between a random and a broadcast signal here's the problems:

1) Power

Given the distances involved the power of the transmission would have to be huge. Remember that radio disperses like any wave and in this case in three dimensions. Unless it is very directional the further out it gets the more the signal decreases.

2) Time

This signal will have had to be broadcast quite a while ago. As we only listen to a small part of the sky for a relatively short period of time the broadcast would have to be pretty much constant for thousands if not millions of years way back in prehistory to stand a chance of arriving during the brief window when we were listening.

3) Frequency

Doppler shift is likely to be a problem as well. As the universe is expanding we can assume that the source is moving away from us so the wavelength of the transmission will be far longer than during the original broadcast. This brings us back to if we can actually detect it.

As for the challenges of actually detecting it one commenttard said he could tell that a radio broadcast in another language was not random. This is because it was audible in a recognisable language. Imagine it's a base 3 encoded digital transmission of direct brain waves, that is likely to look a lot like pure entropy.

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Anonymous Coward

Crowd source

No reason why they cannot go to Kickstarter, they would get much, much more than they needed and without Government oversight.

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Maybe they should open a KickStart buy in

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Unhappy

SETI was defunded by the US Gov. I'm more concerned about NEO's.

NASA has been looking for an asteroid to bring into a parking orbit around the Moon. Not to big. Less than 20m in size.

Guess what. They could not objects that small. A 20m^3 cube with average Earth density, about 5600Kg/m^3 is about 44 000 tonnes.

A few of these hitting the Earths atmosphere and the search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe will become irrelevant, as there will be no intelligent life left here.

.

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Re: SETI was defunded by the US Gov. I'm more concerned about NEO's.

The last 'large-ish' impact was the Tunguska event in which the offending party was estimated to be between 60m and 190m. So whilst you're perhaps a little unduly worried about the ending of life as we know it, I will concede that it wouldn't be very nice were that to happen today over a major urban centre.

Following on from Ansbro's suggestion reported in the article: why do the two goals have to be mutually exclusive? To an extent, both goals can be achieved by having a better knowledge of our local (in space terms) environment.

I also really like Ansbro's idea because I'm a little impatient (I typically like things to happen within my lifetime - I know, right?!). Were we to receive some signal from a distant star there is precisely f-all we could do about it that would be fruitful any time soon.

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Alien

The questions are....

Even our local galaxy is so large that it's almost certain that there's life in some form within it. So the questions are one of transmitted power and temporal coincidence rather than "if".

Even in terms of our local galaxy, the probability of having those two factors in our favour is very, very small IMO. Our problem is that if (and that's a big "if") we receive a signal with some form of structure that could be regarded as having some form of intelligent component, any response we sent would probably not be received until after our demise. But that should not stop us trying. It's part of human nature to be curious about our surroundings - even if they are beyond reach.

Given the choice, I agree we need to pay more attention to the large rocky objects within our own solar system that could do us serious harm. Hugely more important than the detection of LGM.

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Happy

Re: The questions are....

Even our local galaxy is so large that it's almost certain that there's life in some form within it.

Why only almost? Last I checked, there still was life on earth, which happens to be in our very own Milky Way galaxy.

As for asteroids, you can always join "Asteroids@home". They are trying to calculate shape and movement of asteroids. The project is even available for Android through the "nativeboinc" app, so you can run it, while recharging your smartphone during the night.

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Are transverse radio waves the best signal type to search for?

In my opinion, its doubtful that advanced civilisations will utilize transverse radio wave communications, for deep space communications. We've had radio for about 100 years now and that is an exceptionally small period of time in the history of our civilisation- I doubt we will be using radio in its current form 100 years from now.

If we are hoping to find advanced alien civilisations by searching for radio waves I would imagine Tesla style longitudinal radio waves would make more sense as they should work better for ultra deep space communication.

I doubt that this would be the pick of choice though - surely an advanced civilisation would utilize the effect of quantum entanglement to communicate at instantaneous speeds over interplanetary distances.

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Black Helicopters

Re: Are transverse radio waves the best signal type to search for?

Or they might use Skype, in which case the NSA knows what they are saying!!

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Rol
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Re: Are transverse radio waves the best signal type to search for?

I see the threat level from space aliens has been officially downgraded and so the resources have been redeployed.

I guess the only thing that will jerk America back into looking will be when someone else starts looking.

After all, all that lovely alien tech could fall into the wrong hands.

No, wait, it's all falling into place, all NSA need do is monitor those who are looking.

Damned clever those Americans.

Here's a question though, what if the Borg cubes turn out to have rounded corners and the Collective use an App Store to err, well, store apps?

I'd like to see the patent litigation in Texas. Lawyers with lasers! Awesome.

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Anonymous Coward

Vigilo Confido

Alien hunting team eh? Fuel up the Skyranger.

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Stop

Repeating SETI is likely to be every bit as succesful as SETI has been. Those boffins need to start thinking outside the box and come up with a completely novel way to find aliens.

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Boffins

Please stop using the word "Boffins". This is not a gutter tabloid and I'm sure most of the readers here could be described as boffins in their own field. It just strengthens the stereotype that scientists are bespectacled weirdos, and is not appropriate for a middle-brow read like The Register.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Boffins

"most of the readers here could be described as boffins in their own field"

Well, you need to be a practising scientist with a degree that specifically involves high-level mathematics. Then we can talk. We quite like proper boffins.

"scientists are bespectacled weirdos"

Well, your words, not mine. Not far off one top Guardian hack's description of us as "a bunch of aggro loner twats".

C.

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Who will be first to discover Alien life here on earth ??

I don't see any human being in the world finding intelligent life until that superior intelligent life is ready to be discovered. The Bible was given as a road map for the "end times". Will these "alien" life forms reveal themselves as saviors of the human race? Able to cure the incurable dieses (WHICH THEY MAY HAVE GIVIEN TO THE HUMAN RACE) . If a country is in doubt the alien life will have the ability to appear in front of those who doubt them leaving no doubt for the entire human race. Our technology is and has been drip fed to us from these intelligent life forms. So what make us be live we can find them with there own outdated tech ? I would look more towards the Vatican for answers which will soon be revealed. Do I be live there is life outside of our system ? Yes I be live that there are different dimensions to this creation. I was raised in the church to be live in heaven and gods messengers which are human in form with giant wings on there back able to become visible to those chosen. We live in the devils domain. No one said that these aliens who come to heal and communicate with humans are going to be good. In fact I don't see them making a better plant for us. I see them looking at us as they have always done, as cattle for the taking . Does our pope thinks he will baptize the aliens ? Who are we to think of them as sinners ? What about all of the abduction to which there is physical evidence showing they experiment on our children and adults ?? They alien life will need to come to the surface but be prepared for when this happens just as the tower of babble feel because it wasn't in gods plan so shall the end time comes when other life form interrupt the plan of our creator . If you go looking for the truth you may not like what you find .

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