A $100 million project to search the skies for signs of intelligent life was launched at the Royal Society in London today by Russian billionaire and tech investor Yuri Milner, Professor Stephen Hawking and Lord Martin Rees.
Called the Breakthrough Initiative, it is the largest-ever effort to search for alien civilizations.
The work will try to find signals that might be being broadcast by civilizations across the galaxy, whether from planets or machine-based AI.
The Breakthrough Initiative will be a 10-year study using two of the world’s largest telescopes: The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, United States, and the Parkes Telescope in Australia.
Milner also announced a second initiative, Breakthrough Message, which pledges $1 million in prize money to those who can successfully create digital messages to send into the universe that represent humanity and planet Earth.
“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.”
Professor Hawking said at the launch: “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. It’s time to commit to finding the answer to search for life beyond Earth. The Breakthrough Initiate is making that commitment.”
Hawking added, “It is sure to bear fruit. If a search of this scale and sophistication finds no evidence of intelligence out there it will be a very interesting result. It will not prove that we are alone, but it will narrow the possibilities. It is important for us to know if we are alone in the dark.”
Astronomer Royal Lord Rees described the project as a “huge gamble” and said “no one would count on success”
Yuri Milner, has a net worth of $3.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He made his billions by investing on Facebook, Twitter and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. — but has an interest in astronomy going back to childhood.