SETI@home – a project to find aliens using distributed computing – will stop on March 31.

For 20 years, a team at the University of California, Berkeley has been sending data from radio telescopes to a network of volunteer computers for processing.

They have been searching for an alien signal by sifting through data gathered passively from two radio telescopes as they scanned the stars for science.

But soon no more data will be distributed to home computers around the world.

“We’re doing this for two reasons,” a post on the SETI@home website says.

“Scientifically, we’re at the point of diminishing returns; basically, we’ve analysed all the data we need for now.

“[And] it’s a lot of work for us to manage the distributed processing of data. We need to focus on completing the back-end analysis of the results we already have, and writing this up in a scientific journal paper.”

Phone SETI@home

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) hit home computers in 1999 when scientists at UC Berkeley thought of an ingenious way to analyse the incomprehensible amounts of data (about 35GB) they received from the Arecibo radio telescope every day.

They decided to distribute the computational grunt work to internet-enabled volunteer computers. Users installed the SETI@home screensaver on their PC which would process chunks of data instead of idly displaying a colourful screensaver.

In its early days, the Berkeley team had to wait for fresh 35GB tapes to arrive by post from the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico – it didn’t have a high-speed internet connection – before chunking it down into 250KB blocks that it would send to members of its worldwide network of idle computers for processing.

The computers looked for Gaussian signals that are stronger than mere background noise and that came and went within 12 seconds – the time it takes for the Arecibo telescope to pass over one point in the sky.

You can still BOINC

Although the SETI@home project is finished for now, you can still lend your idle processing power to other distributed computing citizen-science initiatives.

SETI@home led to the development of the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) – platform which is still actively used to conduct scientific research in fields like particle physics, climate science, and molecular biology.

Volunteer calculations completed during BOINC projects led to the publication of numerous peer-reviewed research papers – although sadly none of them confirm the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence.

BOINC’s processing power varies with its number of uses. As of writing, BOINC has over 700,000 active computers and computed a daily average of 24 thousand trillion floating point operations per second (PetaFLOPS).

Summit, the world’s most powerful supercomputer, is capable of up to 200 PetaFLOPS.