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SETI@Home ends its crowdsourced search for alien life after 21 years

Daniel Cooper
Senior Editor
honglouwawa via Getty Images

The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence is a series of projects that scrub the background noise of the universe to look for alien life. One of the most famous ventures under the name was SETI@Home, in which members of the public were encouraged to donate their idle computing time to the venture. After 21 years, however, UC Berkeley has announced that the project will stop on March 31st.

SETI@Home was born at UC Berkeley and released to the world on May 17th, 1999, using the university's distributed computing platform, BOINC. Whenever people left their machine on, but weren't using it, the program would take over and crunch data sent from UC Berkeley. In that way, the system created a giant, internet-connected supercomputer to grind through all of the information.

In a statement, project leaders say that the reason for the "hibernation" is that they're "at the point of diminishing returns." Fundamentally, so much information has already been processed that it's now time to sift through it and look for any sort of conclusion. "We need to focus on completing the back-end analysis of the results we already have," they continue, and then publishing a "scientific journal paper."

While SETI@Home is closing, UC Berkeley's other astrophysics projects that use BOINC will still harness your computing time, if you're offering. Or, if you're looking for another good cause to support, you could always support Folding@Home, which is still in operation. That platform offers distributed computing for disease research, drug design and other medical research, which recently began tackling COVID-19.