For over four decades, scientists and engineers from around the world have devoted their lives to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). And they have never lost hope of finding the greatest needle in the haystack - a sign from outer space that we are not alone. Now, as a result of a groundbreaking computer program called SETI@~home, millions of ordinary people have joined in the search.
SETI@home, designed by UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory, harnesses the idle and unused processing power of over 2.5 million PCs, in what constitutes the world's largest supercomputer, to analyze and process data collected by the Arecibo Radio Observatory. Searching for signs of life from far-off worlds is the ultimate challenge for radioastronomers, because the science of communication spans so many different fields of study-from biology to astronomy to linguistics and information theory.
First, scientists must choose which star systems to, search. Then they spend extensive time combing through vast data in search of that one faint signal. But listening for a message is only the starting point of SETI. The real question presents the greater challenge: if we receive a message, how will we communicate with its sender? Rather than speculate about what information we might receive, Beyond Contact discusses how we might carry on complex high-level communication across interstellar distances by building a general purpose language to exchange messages with an intelligent alien race.
The book also examines traditional radio (microwave) and laser (optical) wave communication techniques employed by SETI researchers and looks at ways to receive and transmit messages. In addition, it provides an overview of the Drake and Brin equations, as well as the Rare Earth Hypothesis. Through a process of elimination, these theories help determine the number of star systems in the universe that could harbor intelligent life.
And they shed light on whether Earth - and the development of life here-is just an aberration or the tip of an iceberg.