Russian billionaire, Hawking announce $100 million search for ET

July 20, 2015

Green Bank Telescope (credit: Geremia/Wikimedia Commons)

Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, Frank Drake and others announced at The Royal Society today $100 million funding for Breakthrough Listen — the “most powerful, comprehensive, and intensive scientific search ever undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth.”

They also announced $1 million prize funding for Breakthrough Message, a competition to generate messages representing humanity and planet Earth.

“It’s time to commit to finding the answer to search for life beyond Earth,” said Hawking. “We are live, we are intelligent, we must know … if we are alone in the dark.”

The search will be done at two of the largest radio telescopes, the 100 Meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the world’s largest steerable radio telescope; and the 64-metre diameter Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia.  And the Automated Planet Finder Telescope at Lick Observatory in California will undertake the world’s deepest and broadest search for optical laser transmissions.

More sensitive, faster, wider spectrum, more sky coverage

The Breakthrough Listen initiative will be 50 times more sensitive than previous programs dedicated to SETI research, the scientists say. It will cover ten times more of the sky than previous programs and will scan at least five times more of the radio spectrum, and 100 times faster.  It will survey the one million closest stars to Earth and the 100 closest galaxies.

The program will generate what may be the largest amount of scientific data ever made available to the public, at tens of gigaHertz bandwidth, the scientists said, and all data and software will be open-source and available to the public. The initiative will also be joining and supporting SETI@home, UC Berkeley’s distributed computing platform, with 9 million volunteers donating their spare computing power to search astronomical data for signs of life.

The second initiative, Breakthrough Message, will be an international competition to create digital messages that represent humanity and planet Earth, with prizes totaling $1,000,000. It will not be a commitment to send messages.

Other leaders for the two initiatives are astronomer Pete Worden, Chairman, Breakthrough Prize Foundation and former Director, NASA Ames Research Center; professor of astronomy Geoff Marcy, UC Berkeley; writer/producer Ann Druyan, Creative Director of the Interstellar Message, NASA Voyager; SETI@home project chief scientist Dan Werthimer; and Andrew Siemion, Director, Berkeley SETI Research Center.

More information: Breakthrough Initiatives.

Breakthrough Life In The Universe Initiatives Press Conference