Stephen Hawking has entered into a ten year, $100 million project to search for signs of alien life – which is the most extensive scientific initiative for this purpose to date. Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner recently launched the Breakthrough Listen initiative, which will scan the universe for signs of other intelligent life. Using some of the largest telescopes on the planet, the project will search for any signs of radio and laser signals, which will take the search to a new level. In fact, Milner claims that the initiative will collect more information in one day than previous initiatives have over the course of one year. While the chances of success may be small, it would be a major breakthrough if there is some sign of intelligent life out there, and with advancements in technology this is now becoming more and more feasible to look for. Basically, the project will allow astronomers to see the sorts of signals which are used for air-traffic control from any of the closest 1000 stars, as well as detect any sort of laser from anywhere within four light-years. While the project may never find anything, it will be the most comprehensive of its kind ever undertaken, with far more observation time given for large radio telescopes – many of which operate infrequently as it is.
Hawking himself says that in an infinite universe, the possibility of other forms of intelligent life is likely, but not necessarily a given – but it’s a question which must be answered for humanity. The project was launched on the 46th anniversary of the first landing on the moon, and with the advancements in technology it’s becoming easier than ever to find out if there is any signal out there – scanning at least five times more of the radio spectrum nearly 100 times faster than ever before. While allied with the Breakthrough Message project (which sends messages into space), Breakthrough Listen has no commitment to send messages of its own into space, which may necessitate a debate on whether or not humans should be sending any messages into space at all. Given that previous expeditions have found a number of solar systems which could possibly harbor life, we’ll just have to wait and see what the possibilities hold with this project. Either way, it could potentially answer a few questions.
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