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Last updated at 17:10 GMT, Tuesday, 06 March 2012

Citizen scientists

Summary

6 March 2012

A major research programme has been launched for 'citizen scientists' to search for signs of intelligent life on other planets. Researchers in California are looking for people to help sort through the vast array of radio signals coming from the skies. There's so much data that professional astronomers don't have enough computer power - or manpower - to analyse it all.

Reporter
Peter Bowes

The SETI Allen Telescope Array and SETI astronomers in California

The SETI Allen Telescope Array and SETI astronomers in California

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Report

Scientists have been looking for evidence of life beyond earth for decades. They haven't found it yet, but researchers at the SETI Institute, which stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, say the skies are so crowded with radio signals, that the clues may be missed.

The telescopes are focusing on more than 150,000 stars but the scientists say they need help to analyse the information that's coming back to earth. They've created a new public web site to allow volunteers to receive the data on their computers.

There could be signs of life and the vital clues that may eventually help scientists answer that age-old question: Are we alone? Professional astronomers will be working with the volunteers to help them understand what they're seeing. And it could be a citizen scientist who spots the first tantalizing signal, proof that life exists beyond the earth.

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Vocabulary

evidence

facts that make you believe something is true

extraterrestrial intelligence

advanced life forms existing beyond our planet

clues

pieces of evidence

analyse

examine

volunteers

people who do something without being paid for it

vital

essential

age-old

long-standing or very old

astronomers

people who study space

citizen

person belonging to a particular country

tantalizing

exciting, making you want more (even if it is not possible)

exists

occurs

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