Stephen Hawking Searching for Life Beyond Earth
Yuri Milner was joined at The Royal Society Monday by Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, Frank Drake, Geoff Marcy, Pete Worden, and Ann Druyan to announce the $100 million global Breakthrough Initiatives to reinvigorate the search for life in the universe.
The first of two initiatives announced Monday, Breakthrough Listen, will be an intensive scientific search 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.
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Breakthrough Listen program will include a survey of the 1,000,000 closest stars to Earth. It will scan the center of our galaxy and the entire galactic plane.
Beyond the Milky Way, it will listen for messages from the 100 closest galaxies. The telescopes used are exquisitely sensitive to long-distance signals, even of low or moderate power:
If a civilization based around one of the 1,000 nearest stars transmits with the power of common aircraft radar, Breakthrough Listen telescopes could detect it.
If a civilization transmits from the center of the Milky Way, with any more than 12 times the output of interplanetary radars to probe the Solar System, Breakthrough Listen telescopes could detect it.
From a nearby star (25 trillion miles away), Breakthrough Listen’s optical search could detect a 100-watt laser (energy output of normal household light bulb).
The program will generate vast amounts of data. All data will be open to the public. The Breakthrough Listen team will use and develop software for sifting and searching this flood of data.
All software will be open source. Both the software and the hardware used in the Breakthrough Listen project will be compatible with other telescopes around the world, so that they could join the search for intelligent life.
As well as using the Breakthrough Listen software, scientists and members of the public will be able to add to it, developing their own applications to analyze the data.
Breakthrough Listen will also be joining and supporting SETI@home, University of California, Berkeley’s distributed computing platform, with 9 million volunteers around the world donating their spare computing power to search astronomical data for signs of life. Collectively, they constitute one of the largest supercomputers in the world.
Breakthrough Message is an international competition to create digital messages that represent humanity and planet Earth. The pool of prizes will total $1,000,000.
This initiative is not a commitment to send messages. It’s a way to learn about the potential languages of interstellar communication and to spur global discussion on the ethical and philosophical issues surrounding communication with intelligent life beyond Earth.