We’ve been hunting for signs of life elsewhere in the universe for quite a while, but as far as most of us know there has been no discovery of intelligent life beyond our own planet. That could, if we’re fortunate enough, end some time in the next decade thanks to a new 10-year mission with a $100 million backing. The search will be broken down into two initiatives, with the first having been announced today by Stephen Hawking and other participating researchers.
The two initiatives are called Breakthrough Listen and Breakthrough Message, with Listen being the first of the two. It was announced today at the Royal Society in London by Stephen Hawking, Yuri Milner, and other scientists, and will be the biggest such mission to have ever been undertaken.
Said Hawking, in part, during the announcement:
We believe that life arose spontaneously on Earth, so in an infinite universe, there must be other occurrences of life. Somewhere in the cosmos, perhaps intelligent life might be watching these lights of ours, aware of what they mean. Or do our lights wander a lifeless cosmos, unseen beacons announcing that, here on one rock, the universe discovered its existence? Either way, there is no better question. It’s time to commit to finding the answer, to search for life beyond Earth. The Breakthrough initiatives are making that commitment. We are alive. We are intelligent. We must know.
Under Breakthrough Listen, a million stars in the Milky Way and the closest 100 galaxies will all be surveyed. That will lead into Breakthrough Message, which will task itself with developing the content of messages to be sent from humans to intelligent life collectives elsewhere.
Milner will be funding the initiatives. He said at the announcement:
In 1961, John F. Kennedy announced his dream of landing a man on the moon by the end of this decade. Forty-six years ago, man made the first steps on the moon. That same year, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. It was an important year for humanity; we stepped out into the solar system. And it was an important year for me; I was born. My parents were so inspired by Gagarin’s voyage that they named me Yuri. Later, I was told by my mother, who is right here in this room, that she wanted me to be inspired by what he did.