World-renowned scientist Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author, has announced his support for Russian billionaire Yuri Milner‘s alien search project Breakthrough Initiatives. This 10-year project will provide $100 million to those searching for extraterrestrial intelligence.
“We believe that life arose spontaneously on Earth, so in an infinite universe there must be other occurrences of life,” Hawkings said in a speech at the Royal Society in London on Monday.
“It is sure to bear fruit,” Hawking added. “Experimental astronomy is always worthwhile. If a search of this scale and sophistication finds no evidence of intelligence out there, that is a very interesting result.”
Milner, who made his fortune through investments in companies such as Facebook, is offering one of the largest-ever monetary sums for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, also known as SETI. He referred to his project as the “most comprehensive search program ever,” and asserted that the new program will gather more information in one day than in a year of previous research.
Milner’s investment in SETI will ensure astronomers have bountiful observation time on some of the world’s biggest radio telescopes–including the Parkes Telescope in Australia and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia–in comparison to their prior use of about one night a year. A third telescope sensitive to laser communication will be employed, as well as new technology under development at UC Berkeley.
The Milky Way and nearby galaxies at distances of up to four light-years away will be observed for signs of intelligent life through radio transmissions. Breakthrough Listen will scan five times more radio frequencies than previous projects and do it 100 times faster than before.
“The idea is to bring a Silicon Valley approach to the search for life,” Milner said, as reported by popsci.com. “That is, an approach to data that is transparent, that is innovative, and that uses the power of crowd-sourcing.”
The project will be in the hands of a team of 25 scientists, including Geoff Marcy of the University of California and astronomer Frank Drake, who has participated in the ongoing search for alien intelligence for over 50 years.
Milner is also offering a $1 million prize to someone–anyone–who can come up with a peaceful message that best represents humanity to E.T.s from Earthlings.
The search for extra-terrestrial life–especially through radio telescopes–has remained somewhat stagnant since no communication was achieved from Drake’s Project Ozma in 1960. With extensive funding, cutting-edge new technology and a ceaseless curiosity about the cosmos, the search for alien intelligence continues in full-force with Breakthrough Listen.
“Either way, there is no bigger question,” said Hawking, in reference to the search for E.T.