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Stephen Hawking and Russian Entrepreneur Announce the 'Most Powerful, Comprehensive and Intensive' Search for Intelligent Alien Life

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"Time to commit to finding the answer to life beyond Earth."

DST Global Founder Yuri Milner and Theoretical Physicist Stephen Hawking ahead of a press conference on the Breakthrough Life in the Universe Initiatives, hosted by Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking, at The Royal Society on July 20, 2015 in London, England. (Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images for Breakthrough Initiatives)

Famed physicist Stephen Hawking and Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner announced the formation of a $100 million mission to search for signs of intelligent alien life elsewhere in the universe.

Breakthrough Initiatives, which boasts a number of respected scientists in its leadership, involves two projects: Breakthrough Listen, which considers itself to be the "most powerful, comprehensive and intensive scientific search ever undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth;" and Breakthrough Message, a competition to create messages that represent humanity and Earth that could be sent to other civilizations.

“With Breakthrough Listen, we’re committed to bringing the Silicon Valley approach to the search for intelligent life in the universe," Milner, an investor in companies like Facebook, Twitter, Groupon and more, said in a statement. "Our approach to data will be open and taking advantage of the problem-solving power of social networks.”

DST Global Founder Yuri Milner and Theoretical Physicist Stephen Hawking ahead of a press conference on the Breakthrough Life in the Universe Initiatives, hosted by Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking, at The Royal Society on July 20, 2015 in London, England. (Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images for Breakthrough Initiatives)

Hawking in a news conference this morning said it was "time to commit to finding the answer to life beyond Earth."

Here's some of what the project will entail:

  • The 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 to us 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 we use 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).

This data will be open source and "will likely constitute the largest amount of scientific data ever made available to the public," the news release stated. The software involved in the program will also be open source.

"We’ve learned a lot in the last fifty years about how to look for signals from space," Frank Drake, an astrophysicist who is considered a pioneer in the search for extraterrestrial life and one of the project leads for Breakthrough Initiatives, said in a statement. "With the Breakthrough Initiatives, the learning curve is likely to bend upward significantly."

The financial commitment for Breakthrough Listen totals $1 million. Prizes for the Breakthrough Messages portion of the project also total $1 million.

"The Breakthrough Message competition is designed to spark the imaginations of millions, and to generate conversation about who we really are in the universe and what it is that we wish to share about the nature of being alive on Earth," Ann Druyan, creative director of the Interstellar Message for NASA Voyager, said in a statement. "Even if we don’t send a single message, the act of conceptualizing one can be transformative."

Breakthrough Initiative's work was announced at the The Royal Society in London Monday.

Watch this report about the initiative:

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