We all want to believe the truth is out there…and we may be one step closer to finding it. Well, more like a hundred million steps closer!
Famed physicist and all around out-of-this-world dude Stephen Hawking has announced a new, multi-million dollar project dubbed “Breakthrough Listen.” It will feature a super science team-up of renowned astronomers, physicists, scientists, and other experts along with resources from across our planet (including multiple observatories, universities, and institutions) to hone the search for intelligent life on other planets. It will be the biggest, longest, most organized, most well funded search to date, taking place over a 10-year period.
“We believe that life arose spontaneously on Earth, so in an infinite universe there must be other occurrences of life. Somewhere in the cosmos perhaps intelligent life may be watching these lights of ours, aware of what they mean,” Professor Hawking stated. “It’s time to commit to finding the answer to search for life beyond Earth. The Breakthrough Initiate is making that commitment.”
Breakthrough Listen will utilize radio telescopes from across the globe, including two of the world’s largest — the 100-meter diameter Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the 64-meter Parkes Observatory in Australia, and the Lick Observatory’s optical telescope in California — to scan millions of stars in the Milky Way and nearby galaxies for radio signals and other signs of extraterrestrial life that could finally provide proof that ET is out there (and hopefully friendly).
As Wired UK noted from the press conference, “If a civilization was broadcasting anything with the power of a ‘common aircraft radar’ from the closest 1,000 stars, the Breakthrough Listen team believe they will find it.”
Though, as The Washington Post also pointed out, the group of Breakthrough Listen scientists gathered on Monday at the press conference “didn’t make any bold claims about immediately hunting down intelligent life-forms — or ever finding them at all, for that matter. But the likelihood of success is about to shoot up exponentially, because right now we’re barely trying.”
Since the 1980s, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) — co-founded by Carl Sagan — has quite famously and officially been doing what Breakthrough Listen aims to do. Unfortunately, SETI is no longer a government funded project. NASA had various SETI projects in the late ’70s, early ’80s, and early ’90s, all of which had their budgets cut and were eventually cancelled by congress. These days, the nonprofit SETI Institute relies solely on funding from universities, private organizations and public donations. According to Jill Tarter, American astronomer and former director of the Center for SETI Research, as of 2012 it cost around “$2 million per year to keep SETI research going at the SETI Institute” and approximately 10 times that to support “all kinds of SETI activity around the world.”
But what about now, with 50 times operating costs available? “We would typically get 24 to 36 hours on a telescope per year, but now we’ll have thousands of hours per year on the best instruments,” said Andrew Siemion, director at the University of California Berkeley’s SETI Research Center (one of the universities that will take part in and receive funding from Breakthrough Listen).
“It’s difficult to overstate how big this is. It’s a revolution.”
The project is being funded solely by Russian entrepreneur and venture capitalist Yuri Milner. Milner has in the past primarily invested in tech companies, including a few you might have heard of like Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Zynga, Groupon and Alibaba. Yeah, he’s kind of a big deal.
Thanks to Milner’s funding, scientists will now be able to collect as much data in a day as they did in a year for SETI. And we can even join the cause! That collected data will be open source; available to the public so we can all help scan the radio signals that could lead to literally the most important discovery. Ever.
Just think…you could be the person that gets to call the General in the middle of the night and say “We found something…” And if being the person to discover aliens wasn’t enough, there is a bonus $1 million prize awarded to anyone who can find tangible evidence.