Russian Billionaire Funds New Project to Find Intelligent Life

Posted on July 20, 2015

Breakthrough Initiatives announcement led by Yuri Milner

A new project to find intelligent life in the Universe has been launched by the Breakthrough Initiatives group at the Royal Society in London. The $100 million project is funded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, the chief executive officer of Digital Sky Technologies.

The 10-year project will listen for broadcast signals from a million stars closest to Earth. The project will use the Parkes Telescope in Australia and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. Breakthrough Initiatives says it will scan 10 times more of the sky than previous programs. The project organizers also say that if there is a civilization based around one of the 1,000 nearest stars transmitting with the power of common aircraft radar it will be able to detect it using the two telescopes.

All the data collected by the project will be made available to the public. It will use open source software. Milner was joined by Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, Frank Drake, Geoff Marcy, Pete Worden and Ann Druyan in the Breakthrough Initiatives announcement.

The BBC News reports that Hawking said at the announcement, "Somewhere in the cosmos, perhaps, intelligent life may 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 bigger question. It's time to commit to finding the answer - to search for life beyond Earth. We are alive. We are intelligent. We must know."

Time interviewed Milner about the investment and the project. He was asked about his personal views about whether or not there is intelligent life out there beyond our solar system. Milner says, "The universe is not teeming with life, but we're probably not alone. If we were alone it would be such a waste of real estate. But I don't want to be the judge, I just want to help find an answer."

Milner also says that if the project hasn't found anything after then years then he will fund it for another decade. He says, "This thing can go on forever. It's our responsibility as human beings to keep looking for a signal."

Photo: Breakthrough Initiatives