World renowned British physicist and author of the famous book, ‘ A Brief History of Time’ has announced a new project, in collaboration with Russian billionaire and Silicon Valley tycoon Yuri Milner, to hunt for extraterrestrial life. The US$100 million project, called, ‘ Breakthrough Initiatives’ will endeavour to find intelligent life in space.
Bound to a wheelchair in body but with a spirit roaming the universe, Stephen Hawking, in his computer-generated voice due to the effects of motor neuron disease, announced the initiative in a press conference at the Royal Society in London on Monday saying, “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 may be watching these lives 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 is time to commit to finding the answer to search for life beyond Earth. We are alive, we are intelligent, we must know.”
On the other hand, Milner, best known for his investments in companies like Facebook and Alibaba said, “With ‘Breakthrough Listen’, we are committed to bringing the Silicon Valley approach to the search for intelligent life in the Universe. Our approach to data will be open and taking advantage of the problem-solving power of social networks. The scope of our search will be unprecedented: a million nearby stars, the galactic center, the entire plane of the Milky Way and 100 nearby galaxies.”
The “Breakthrough Initiatives” project has the patronage and endorsement of several prominent scientists and educational institutes as one of the largest scientific search for extraterrestrial life. Lord Martin Rees, Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics and University of Cambridge and also a member of the project said, “The search for extra-terrestrial life is the most exciting quest in 21st-century science. The Breakthrough Initiatives aim to put it on the same level as the other ultimate scientific questions.”
It will comprise of a “listening” program which will aim to analyze and track the most sensitive radio signals from space to search for signs of life, and a “messaging” program that will offer $1 million in prizes for digital messages representing our planet; these messages however will not be transmitted to space due to fear of alien aggression.
The entire project will be supported by the 100-meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the 64-meter Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia and the Lick Observatory in California which will carry out a thorough search for optical laser transmissions. The other supporter is SETI@home, a University of California, Berkeley project that makes use of the computing abilities of 9 million volunteers worldwide to search for astronomical data related to alien life with what can be aptly termed as the world’s largest supercomputer. The search will include a survey of the 1,000,000 closest stars to our planet and tracking signals from 100 galaxies closest to our own Milky Way galaxy.
Expressing his optimism about the initiative, Hawking said, “If a search of this scale and sophistication finds no evidence of intelligence out there it will be a very interesting result. It will not prove that we are alone, but will narrow the possibilities.”