Have a computer? Want to help astronomers make awesome discoveries and understand our Universe? theSkyNet needs you!

Your computer is bored. It has spare processing power nearly all of the time that could be used to do something cool. So why not let it?

By connecting 100s and 1000s of computers together through the Internet, it’s possible to simulate a single machine capable of doing some pretty amazing stuff. theSkyNet is a community computing project dedicated to radio astronomy. Astronomers use telescopes to observe the Universe at many different wavelengths. All day, every day, signals from distant galaxies, stars and other cosmic bits and pieces arrive at the Earth in the form of visible (optical) light, radio waves, infrared radiation, ultraviolet radiation and many other types of waves. Once detected by a telescope the signal is processed by computers and used by scientists to support a theory or inspire a new one.

When you join theSkyNet your computer will help astronomers process information and answer some of the big questions we have about the Universe. As a part of theSkyNet community your computer will be called upon to process small packets of data, but you wont even notice it’s going on. The key to theSkyNet is to have lots of computers connected, with each doing only a little, but it all adding up to a lot.

At the heart of theSkyNet is this website, where you’ll find alliances you’ve joined stack up against others. The more data you and your alliances process, the higher you'll climb in the rankings. But that’s not it, because as theSkyNet project evolves we’ll be adding more features for you to explore. In the pipeline we have visualisation tools to help you understand the data you’re processing and even an opportunity to help identify and catalogue radio wave sources in the sky.

At the moment theSkyNet has two main science projects for you to contribute to, theSkyNet SourceFinder and theSkyNet POGS. You can find out more about theSkyNet's science and our two projects at the Science Portals.

The Guts of theSkyNet

TheSkyNet's two projects have different software behind them.

TheSkyNet SourceFinder is powered by some software called Nereus, developed by eMedia Track in the UK. Data collected by one of several radio telescopes is sent to your computer as a small data packet ready for processing by the Nereus client. Once processing of the data packet has taken place it is sent back and the process begins all over again. By repeating this process across thousands of computers, it is possible to simulate a single powerful machine capable of doing real and relevant scientific research. Nereus can either operate as a background program on your computer, installed within something called the 'Java sandbox' - which has no access to the rest of your computer. Or, if you'd rather not have to install something, you can also donate through your web browser instead.

TheSkyNet POGS is theSkyNet's newest project, in testing since late 2012 and officially joining theSkyNet on our second birthday - September 13th 2013. TheSkyNet POGS is powered by BOINC (or the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing), software that works in a similar way to Nereus that was originally developed for the SETI@Home project.

Continue reading: Why should I Join?