Search For ET Comes to Santa Clara

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Is there anybody there?

That's the question SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, seeks to answer. And this weekend they're asking it at a Bay Area conference.

SETIcon is being held at the Santa Clara Hyatt Regency.  It is a serious conference that features scientists, celebrities and sci-fi writers in what's being called a "mind-meld of entertainment and scientific exploration."

Scheduled panels include "Looking for a Few Good Earths: Finding Our Counterpart Among the Stars," "Multiverses: Is One Cosmos Enough?" "Why Are There No Tourists from Other Worlds?" and "Secrets of the Red Planet: What Have We Learned from Mars Exploration?"

It's not all science and academia, though. On Friday night, the event hosted a game of Rock Band, hosted by Phil Plait. He's an astronomer who worked on the Hubble project for a decade and gained fame for his "Bad Astronomer" blog in which he debunks bad science.

Even if the science is a bit over your head, you can still participate. The "SETI at Home" project allows anyone with a computer to devote idle processing time to analyzing radio transmissions. Currently, the program claims three million participants.

SETI isn't a formal project -- it's a term that applies to a broad array of extraterrestrial investigations that trace their history back decades. A radio telescope in West Virginia was one of the first to examine space for signs of intelligent life, back in the 1960s. And in 1979, UC Berkeley launched a project called "SERENDIP" that analyzes existing radio transmissions. SERENDIP continues to this day, with a spectrometer installed in Arecibo, Mexico.

Frank Drake, the astronomer who launched that 1960 telescope in West Virginia, will be present at SETIcon. Now 80 years old, he'll be formally honored for his work.

Of course, so far nobody's detected any signs of extraterrestrial communication. Or have they? THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE.

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