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How much money will it take to find Extraterrestrial life in a galaxy far, far away? According to famous physicist Stephen Hawking, and Russian-born entrepreneur and tech billionaire Yuri Milner, it will take around 100 Million – for now anyway. According to London AP news, the two powerhouses met at the Royal Society in London and announced during a live press conference:

“An ambitious bid to combine vast computing capacity with the world’s most powerful telescopes to intensify the so far fruitless search for extraterrestrial life.”

Called the “Breakthrough Listen” project (born out of the Break Through Prize Foundation), is the largest Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) in history and demonstrates Milner’s true passion – his love of science. Additionally, Milner (who made serious bank through investments in companies like Facebook and Alibaba) agreed to back the project for at least 10 years and stated during the press conference, “the power of Silicon Valley technology and innovation would be used” and “the scope of our search will be unprecedented: a million nearby stars, the galactic center, the entire plane of the Milky Way and 100 nearby galaxies.” Whoa. Try wrapping your brain around that statement for a minute.

Hawking, also backing the project, stated (in his famous computer-generated voice) one of many reasons for the $100M initiative: “We are alive. We are intelligent. We must know.” He additionally announced, “There is no bigger question. It is time to commit to finding the answer to search for life beyond Earth.” Something tells me this quote will eventually be in every science textbook in the world for generations to come.



Is There Anybody Out There?

How does one begin to look for ET and what exactly does this unprecedented initiative and research project include? Let’s take a look:

  • A “listening” program analyzing huge amounts of radio signals in search of signs of life.
  • A “messaging” program that will include $1M in prizes for digital messages that best represent the planet Earth. Messages won’t be sent, however, because of fear that messages sent into space could possibly spur aggressive actions by alien races. Did someone say potential intergalactic warfare? Truth IS better than fiction.
  • Support by two of the largest and most powerful telescopes in the world: the 100-meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the 64-meter Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia.
  • The project is expected to be 50 times more sensitive than earlier searches, and will cover 10 times more of the sky.
  • Use of SETI(at)home, a UC Berkeley project of 9 million volunteers throughout the world who donate computer power to search data for signs of life.

Promising that the project will be completely transparent, Milner also went on to say, “Our approach to data will be open and will take advantage of the problem-solving power of social networks.” Researchers predict the computing power combined with some of the world’s most powerful telescopes will allow them to collect in one day the same amount of data that would have taken one year to collect before the program began.

According to a recent article in the NY Times,

“No amount of cosmic silence, however, has been able to discourage astronomers who theorize that radio signals can bridge the gulfs between stars more cheaply than spacecraft, allowing distant species to communicate by a sort of cosmic ham radio or galactic Internet. A simple squeal or squawk, or an incomprehensible stream of numbers by a radio antenna pointed at one of those stars, would change history.”

Who’s On The A-Team?

Apparently, Milner already organized a small group of scientists to run the Breakthrough Listen project. According to the NY Times, among the A-Team are:

  • Lord Martin Rees – an “Astronomer Royal” of Cambridge University
  • Peter Worden – former director of the NASA Ames Research Lab
  • Geoffrey Marcy – University of California, Berkeley
  • Werthimer – Exoplanet hunter (?)
  • Andrew Siemion – University of California, Berkeley
  • Ann Druyan – co-author of both “Cosmos” television series and widow of the astronomer Carl Sagan.

Hawking also stated during the conference, “Based on new information about the number of other worlds where life could have taken hold it is “quite likely” humans are not alone” and “If a search of this sophistication finds no proof, that is an interesting result. It will not prove that we are alone, but it will narrow the possibilities and it is likely to produce data that is fascinating in its own right.”

Ever get the feeling that Hawking already knows something we don’t? The project is set to begin in 2016.

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