Man has long been intrigued by the possibility of life on other worlds, and have wondered if extraterrestrial beings have ever walked among us. In that vein a group of scientists and amateur astronomers has set out to search for signals from intelligent beings from outer space. Known as S.E.T.I. (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), the group has been tasked with monitoring the night sky in search of signals from alien races.
About 50 years ago, an astronomer named Frank Drake came up with the idea to use the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (located in Green Bank, West Virginia) to search for radio signals that could be sent out by intelligent beings from another world.
This work carried on for about 11 years, when NASA decided to undertake a similar project headed by Jill Tarter. Based on that work, she came up with the idea of creating an institute that would combine the efforts of all the various groups from around the world. So, she, Drake and Thomas Pierson founded the S.E.T.I. institute in November, 1984.
The institute formally began operations in February 1985, primarily using the Allen Telescope Array in northern California. The array uses 42 antennae to search for radio signals from deep space.
The Work of S.E.T.I.
At its surface, the work of S.E.T.I. may sound like child's play or science fiction. But the work of the institute extends will beyond simply waiting for messages from little green men.
Of course there is a component of the research that entails searching for radio signals from other worlds, but the data is useful in more ways than just looking for life. Radio astronomy is a key component of astronomy as a whole. So the contributions of S.E.T.I. directly impact our knowledge of the Universe by contributing significant amounts of data.
But instead of just waiting for signals, the S.E.T.I. institute is also proactive in seeking out possible life on other worlds. They also work with NASA on the Kepler project. This undertaking is designed to search for extra solar planets -- planets outside our solar system -- particularly those that could support life.
Another component to S.E.T.I.'s work is to study the various environments here on Earth. By doing so, scientists know better what to look for in other "habitable" planets. This information also tells us how a habitable planet can evolve, leading to clues as to where such planets would be located.