The possibility that other life forms exist in our Universe seems to increase every day. Around 1000 extra-solar planets have already been discovered, and the cosmos seems to contain plenty of the same chemical elements that form our body cells.

However, the probability of meeting other life forms, or receiving radio signals from them, is much lower, because of the enormous distances that lay between us and the stars, and because of the differences that can exist between us and an extra-terrestrial civilization: cultural differences, technological gaps, etc..

As a consequence, the Italian scientific community is not in the economical situation to allow (even for brief time periods) full-time or dedicated observations - and expensive instrumentation - to a program that could not lead to a tangible result.

Fortunately, it is possible to perform this kind of investigation, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), by connecting it to other traditional radio-astronomical research, without increasing the costs. This goal is being achieved using the SerendipIV system: it searches for extra-terrestrial radio signals working in parallel with the running astronomical observations, without interfering with them. This device looks for artificial signals at the frequency and coordinates defined by the astronomer who is in charge of the antenna for his/her own research. In this way, it is possible to perform a free SETI research 24 hours a day, every day.

So, the SETI-Italia program is a "zero-cost" activity, and in addition it is very useful tool for other astronomy projects because the SerendipIV is a very effective device for monitoring man-made radio interferences, which is an increasing problem that is undermining the use of radiotelescopes. The SETI program, then, is pure research exclusively aimed at finding certain evidence about the existence of other intelligent beings in the universe. It has nothing to do with the possibility to start "interstellar chats" that, for the moment, remain only an intriguing subject for science fiction.

At the moment engineers and technicians at the Medicina station are planning to design a new low-cost spectrometer with a 300 MHz bandwidth and 256 million channels. Once the spectrometer will exist there will be clearly a lot of technological returns for the data processing in radioastronomy.

For more information please visit the site SETI Institute.