Are we alone in the universe? It’s one of the biggest questions faced by mankind, and today (20 July) Professor Stephen Hawking announced an initiative which aims to accelerate our search for intelligent life.
The Cambridge theoretical physicist was joined at The Royal Society by Yuri Milner, Martin Rees, Frank Drake, Geoff Marcy, Pete Worden and Ann Druyan to announce the unprecedented $100 million global Breakthrough Initiatives to reinvigorate the search for life in the universe. The first of two initiatives, Breakthrough Listen will be the most powerful, comprehensive and intensive scientific search ever undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth. The second, Breakthrough Message, will fund an international competition to generate messages representing humanity and planet Earth, which might one day be sent to other civilizations.
“I strongly support the Breakthrough Initiatives and the search for extraterrestrial life,” says Hawking.
The programme will include a survey of the 1,000,000 closest stars to Earth. It will scan the centre of our galaxy and the entire galactic plane. Beyond the Milky Way, it will listen for messages from the 100 closest galaxies.
The data gathered will be available to the public – expected to constitute the largest amount of scientific data ever made available to the public. And both the software and hardware used in the Breakthrough Listen project will be compatible with other telescopes around the world, so that anyone can join in the search for intelligent life.
“With Breakthrough Listen, we’re committed to bringing the Silicon Valley approach to the search for intelligent life in the Universe,” says Yuri Milner. “Our approach to data will be open and taking advantage of the problem-solving power of social networks.”
Frank Drake, chairman emeritus of SETI Institute, adds: “Right now there could be messages from the stars flying right through the room, through us all. That still sends a shiver down my spine. The search for intelligent life is a great adventure. And Breakthrough Listen is giving it a huge lift.” “We’ve learned a lot in the last fifty years about how to look for signals from space. With the Breakthrough Initiatives, the learning curve is likely to bend upward significantly.”
Find out more: www.breakthroughinitiatives.org