Stephen Hawking Teams Up With Russian Billionaire in Search for Extraterrestrial Life

When worldwide renown physicists like Stephen Hawking says they’re going to do something, people have a tendency to perk their ears up and listen. Monday morning, Hawkings and Russian tech entrepreneur Yuri Milner announced that they were going to partner up and get to the bottom of the extraterrestrial life debate.

What Makes This Attempt Any Different?

The program is being called the Breakthrough Initiative, and so far it’s the largest and most ambitious search for extraterrestrial life ever attempted. It’s a 10-year project that will use both open data and software in an attempt to catch chatter among the closest 1,000 stars.

Two of the world’s largest telescopes, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Parkes Telescope in Australia, are being used in the search, and the Breakthrough Initiative are offering a $1m prize for anyone that’s able to find any evidence of extraterrestrial life.

Andrew Siemion, director at the University of Berkley’s SETI research center, state that this attempt is somewhere between 50 and 100 times more powerful than any efforts made previously. Any extraterrestrial life broadcasting anything with power similar to a “common aircraft radar” will be heard from the widest range of stars we’ve been able to listen out for yet.

Having the Right Resources

The Breakthrough Initiative is receiving $100m in funding to get the ball rolling, but Milner is also pitching in $160m to help fund the Breakthrough Prize, which is a prolific award to recognize major advances.

“This was once a dream, it is now a truly scientific quest,” Milner said. “In the 21st century we will find out about life at a galactic scale.”

A Leap of Faith

Scientists have been searching for signs of extraterrestrial life for decades, and still seem light years away from finding out the truth about whether or not Earth really is that lone, tiny pale dot Carl Sagan once referred to. That’s to no fault of their own, however. Space is a big place and even if aliens were trying to communicate with us, we may not have the tools, or the capacity, to understand what to look for.

“We are intelligent, we are alive, we must know,” said Hawking when talking about the potential danger of contact extraterrestrial life.

Whether or not the Breakthrough Initiative is able to find signs of extraterrestrial life, it’s good to see someone as prominent as Hawking throw his hat into the ring.


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