Genius cosmologist Stephen Hawking launched the biggest search for intelligent extraterrestrial life in years this Monday, with a $100 million project spanning 10-years. The search will utilize the biggest telescopes on Earth and advanced modern technology to search deeper into our universe for radio and laser signals than ever before.
Deemed the ‘Breakthrough Listen initiative’, the project will collect more data in a day than a year’s worth of any previous search, according to its funder Yuri Milner, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and former physicist. The scan will reportedly track millions of the closest stars, the center of our Milky Way galaxy, and the 100 closest galaxies. It’s examination will be 50 times more sensitive to radio signals than previous attempts, and cover 10 times more of the galaxy, allowing us to detect a signal from similarly advanced technology all the way from the enter of the Milky way.
“Breakthrough Listen takes the search for intelligent life in the universe to a completely new level.” said Milner. It will also scan at least five times more of the radio spectrum, and at a rate that’s 100 times faster than previous attempts. “We don’t need to assume that civilization is way more developed than we are.” added the project’s Russian funder.
Martin Rees, one of the project’s leaders and Britains astronomer royal, said that while modern technology and recent discoveries of billions of Earth-like planets within our galaxy raise the search’s chances of finding something, we shouldn’t get our hopes up just yet. “It’s a huge gamble, of course, but the payoff would be so colossal … even if the chance of success is small,” he said. “Is there life out there? We may not answer it but this gives a bigger chance that it may be answered in our lifetime.”
All of the data from the inspection will be publicly available as it is collected, and the message that is transmitted will be determined through the Breakthrough Foundation – a global competition to come up with the best message humans could send off into space with a maximum prize of $1 million. Although there is no guarantee this message will be sent, as many experts are still debating on the ethics of doing so, with Frank Drake – the scientist who sent messages into space in the 1970’s – saying “We know there are people who are afraid that sending is going to endanger us.” In fact, Hawking himself has previously warned us about the risks of making contact with extraterrestrial life.
“A civilization reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead,” said the 73-year-old physicist. “If so, they will be vastly more powerful and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.”
However opinions have evolved over the years and now many believe the prospect of communicating with Aliens may be safer than formerly thought. “I suggest they know we’re here already.” said Drake, adding that it may take at least 200 years before there’s even a possibility of receiving a reply.
Ann Druyan, an author specializing in cosmology who sent music into space during the 1970’s Voyager probe launches, has illustrated what we should do if we make contact. She says the first priority would be to establish a means of communication and a common intention to learn about each other before discussing further action. “We’d want to know their history, social forms, how they understand the origins of the universe,” she said. Although in terms of what our first message should be, Druyan says a simple “‘Hello’ would be right up there.”
“In an infinite universe, there must be other occurrences of life,” Hawking said at the Royal Society launch event in London. “Somewhere in the cosmos, perhaps, intelligent life may be watching. Either way, there is no bigger question. It’s time to commit to finding the answer, to search for life beyond Earth. It is important for us to know if we are alone in the dark.”