SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, is an exploratory science that seeks evidence of life in the universe by looking for some signature of its technology. Our current understanding of life’s origin on Earth suggests that given a suitable environment and sufficient time, life will develop on other planets. Whether evolution will give rise to intelligent, technological civilizations is open to speculation. However, such a civilization could be detected across interstellar distances, and may actually offer our best opportunity for discovering extraterrestrial life in the near future.
Finding evidence of other technological civilizations however, requires significant effort. Currently the Center for SETI Research develops signal-processing technology and uses it to search for signals from advanced technological civilizations in our galaxy.
Work at the Center is divided into two areas: Research and Development, and Projects. R&D efforts include the development of new signal processing algorithms, new search technology, and new SETI search strategies that are then incorporated into specific observing projects. The algorithms and technology developed in the lab are first field-tested and then implemented during observing. The observing results are used to guide the development of new hardware, software, and observing facilities. The improved SETI observing projects in turn provide new ideas for research and development. This cycle leads to continuing progress and diversification in our ability to search for extraterrestrial signals.
From 1994 - 2004, the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute was funded entirely by donations from individuals and grants from private foundations. In 2005, a NASA grant was awarded for work on signal detection for the Allen Telescope Array. Donations and non-governmental grants still comprise the vast majority of funding for the Center.