Biggest-ever search launched for intelligent life beyond Earth

Deep Space Radio Telescope

LONDON, England, Thursday July 23, 2015 – British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has launched the biggest-ever search for intelligent life in the universe in a 10-year, US$100 million project to scan the heavens.

The Breakthrough Listen project, which was launched at the Royal Society in London on Monday, is said to be the most powerful, comprehensive and intensive scientific search ever undertaken for signs of extra-terrestrial intelligent life.

BBC News reports that those behind the initiative plan to cover 10 times more of the sky than previous programmes and scan five times more of the radio spectrum, 100 times faster.

The project will involve access to two of the world’s most powerful telescopes: the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia.

Speaking at the launch, Professor Hawking said: “Somewhere in the cosmos, perhaps, intelligent life may be watching these lights of ours, aware of what they mean.

“Or do our lights wander a lifeless cosmos – unseen beacons, announcing that here, on one rock, the Universe discovered its existence. Either way, there is no bigger question. It’s time to commit to finding the answer – to search for life beyond Earth.

“We are alive. We are intelligent. We must know.”

Hawking added that he believed the search was one of humanity’s most important scientific endeavours.

“To understand the Universe, you must know about atoms – about the forces that bind them, the contours of space and time, the birth and death of stars, the dance of galaxies, the secrets of black holes,” he explained.

“But that is not enough. These ideas cannot explain everything. They can explain the light of stars, but not the lights that shine from planet Earth. “To understand these lights, you must know about life. About minds.”

Silicon Valley-based Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, who backed the initiative, said technology had developed to a point where it was possible to put listening for signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence on a proper scientific footing.

“Current technology gives us a real chance to answer one of humanity’s biggest questions: Are we alone?” Milner said.

“With Breakthrough Listen, we’re committed to bringing the Silicon Valley approach to the search for intelligent life in the Universe. Our approach to data will be open and taking advantage of the problem-solving power of social networks,” he added.

Also involved in the search is Lord Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal.

“The search for extra-terrestrial life is the most exciting quest in 21st-century science. The Breakthrough Initiatives aim to put it on the same level as the other ultimate scientific questions,” he said.

The initiative is allied with the Breakthrough Message project, an international competition to create digital messages that represent humanity, according to Business Insider.

There is no commitment to send any messages into space, and the project should spark discussion about whether humans should be sending messages at all out into the void, the website added.

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