LONDON, England, Friday September 30, 2016 – Three of the world’s wealthiest and most intelligent men have put their money where their mouths are in the quest to find alien life.
The Daily Mail reports that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Russian technology tycoon Yuri Milner and British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking are funding an ambitious US$100 million project known as “Breakthrough Listen,” which will harness the power of the world’s most powerful telescopes to listen to messages from extra-terrestrials.
Breakthrough Listen was launched in January with the aim of scouring one million of the closest stars to Earth for faint signals thrown out into space by intelligent life beyond our own world.
Scientists taking part in the project are also scanning the heart of our galaxy along with 100 of the closest galaxies for low power radio transmissions.
Data will be collected over a 10-year period.
The project acquired a more specific target in August when astronomers discovered clear evidence that our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is the sun to another Earth-like world.
Officially named Proxima b, the rocky planet is believed to have the right conditions to support life and is just four light years from Earth.
“It came only a few months after Stephen Hawking and I, with Mark Zuckerberg’s support, launched our Breakthrough Starshot project, which aims to launch a tiny spacecraft to Alpha Centauri within a generation,’ Milner told MailOnline.
“At the time, we hoped there was a planet in the Centauri system, but we didn’t know.
“Now we have a definite target. That makes the mission feel more tangible.”
Thousands of exoplanets have been discovered before, but unlike the others, scientists say Proxima b is within our reach.
Although four light years is more than 25 trillion miles away from Earth, future generations of super-fast spacecraft could conceivably travel to the planet within the next few decades.
In early October, the Breakthrough Listen team will look for radio emissions that differ from the natural background noise using the Parkes Observatory in Australia.
“It is difficult to predict how long the search will take, but we know that all the conditions necessary for life to arise on Earth are ubiquitous in the universe,” Andrew Siemion, Director of Berkeley SETI (Search For Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) Research Center told MailOnline.
The ambitious project comes as one of its backers, Professor Hawking, says we should be wary of contacting aliens if we find them.
If we were to meet an advanced civilisation, Hawking says, it could be similar to when the Native Americans first encountered Christopher Columbus – and “that didn’t turn out so well.”
The acclaimed theoretical physicist says it would be better for us to find them before they find us.