The first modern SETI project was conducted by Frank Drake (of the Drake Equation ). As part of his graduate thesis he was sweeping the skies using a 85-foot radio telescope at an observatory in Green Bank, W.Va. He hoped to find a radio signal or other evidence of ancient extraterrestrial civilization. While his results were disappointing, it was the genesis of what would become one of the largest privately funded scientific endeavors in human history.
While astronomers have been faced by what’s been described as an “eerie silence” from outer-space, there have been some unexplained bursts of radio chatter from beyond. The most famous would be the WOW signal detected by Jerry Ehman in 1977. Ehman was using Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope, when he came across some unexplained signals in the printout. Excited, he wrote “Wow” in the margins (World of Warcraft hadn’t been invented yet), which is how the signal got it’s name. The signal didn’t match any natural phenomena, nor could it be attributed to any man made broadcasts. Ehman and others have continued to search for the signal, but its origins still remain a mystery.
SETI continues to fund multiple projects around the globe including searching for radio signals from space, constructing the the Allen Telescope Array, studying the martian biosphere, solid state chemistry and beaming our own radio signals out in hopes that someone, somewhere will hear them and make contact.
But not all of SETI’s endeavours are unaccessible to the public at large. SETI@home is a project operated by UC Berkely and was launched in 1999. The program allows users to download a program to their home computer that will run a signal analysis of data recorded at the SERENDIP IV instrument. There are approximately 180,000 users running this program on over 290,000 computers.