At a press conference in London, UK, on July 20, famed physicist Stephen Hawking and Russian tycoon Yuri Milner made a surprise announcement. The duo says they will spend $100 million on an initiative called Breakthrough Listen, which will aim to search for intelligent extraterrestrial life. Neither of them hinted at definitive success of the project or committed to a time frame within which there might be tangible results, but since there hasn’t been much of an attempt to study this field, there might be hope of new discoveries.
“We believe that life arose spontaneously on Earth, so in an infinite universe, there must be other occurrences of life,” said Hawking.
Currently, the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is the largest group looking for life beyond earth, but it doesn’t receive any government funding. Support from private organisations is not too encouraging either.
“We would typically get 24 to 36 hours on a telescope per year, but now we’ll have thousands of hours per year on the best instruments. It’s difficult to overstate how big this is. It’s a revolution,” said Andrew Siemion, a scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the group’s co-founders.
Milner, who has previously invested in technology companies like Facebook and Alibaba, is funding the entire project. The figure of $100 million is set aside as a 10-year budget.
According to Milner and his team of scientists, the project will enable researchers to collect as much data as they do in a year within a day. And it will be made public too.