Is there anyone else out there in the universe? The endeavor to answer that eternal question got a serious shot in the arm this week thanks to Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner. At the Royal Society in London, the billionaire announced the launch of Breakthrough Listen, a 10-year, $100 million initiative to search for signs of extraterrestrial life.
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Aided by the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in W. Va., the CSIRO Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia and the Lick Telescope in at the Lick Observatory in Calif., the scientists will explore 1 million of the closest stars to earth and the 100 nearest galaxies after the Milky Way. All of the information the researchers find will be open source. The project is the largest of its kind (looking at 10 times more of the sky and five times more of the radio spectrum than any past program) and is backed by Stephen Hawking.
Milner also announced a $1 million competition called Breakthrough Message, asking people around the world to put together submissions for a message that represents what life is like on earth that we could ostensibly beam out to our alien neighbors.
The initiative is led by Lord Martin Rees, a fellow of Trinity College, emeritus professor of cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge and a former president of the Royal Society. The other scientists on board include Frank Drake, the co-founder and chairman emeritus of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute; Ann Druyan, co-founder and CEO of Cosmos Studios and creative director of the Interstellar Message, NASA Voyager; University of California, Berkeley professor of astronomy Geoff Marcy; Andrew Siemon, the director of the Berkeley SETI research center; Dan Wertheimer, co-founder and chief scientist of SETI@home; and Peter Worden, the current chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and the former director of NASA's Ames research center.
Milner is the founder of Mail.ru Group and DST Global, a fund that has invested in companies like Facebook, Twitter, Alibaba and Airbnb. And this isn't the first time Milner put his weight behind scientific innovation. In 2013, Milner established the Breakthrough Prize with Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki and Mark Zuckerberg, awarding $3 million to researchers in the fields of fundamental physics, life sciences and mathematics.