The Breakthrough Initiatives: Galvanizing the search for life in our Universe
At a Royal Society event in London earlier this week, Professor Stephen Hawking, Astronomer Royal Lord Martin Rees, and entrepreneur Yuri Milner announced an ambitious 100 million dollar initiative aimed at galvanizing the search for extraterrestrial life. The initiative would seek to make use of a blend of cutting edge telescopes and crowd sourcing to bring the hunt for life in line with present day technological capabilities.
Monday's event saw theannouncement of two key programs – Breakthrough Listen (BL), andBreakthrough Message (BM). BL is unquestionably the most ambitious ofthe two endeavors, a 10 year mission seeking to scour the closest1,000,000 stars on the galactic plane for signals that may constitutesigns of intelligent life. What's more, the project's aspirations arenot limited to the Milky Way. BL will strain to listen beyond ourgalaxy for signals from advanced alien races in 100 neighboringgalaxies.
The lofty goals laidout in the address will be achieved by employing the project'simpressive war chest to fund access to some of the world's premierspace observatories such as the 64-meter Parkes radio telescopelocated in the Parkes Observatory, and the Automated Planet FinderTelescope at the Lick Observatory, California, and the 100-meterGreen Bank Telescope in West Virginia.
The telescopes willscan the sky for radio signals as well as carry out the most indepth search to date for optical laser transmissions. According toBreakthrough Initiatives, the survey will cover 10 times more skythan any previous program of its kind, covering 5 times more of theradio spectrum with a sensitivity 50 times greater than the radiotelescopes currently used to hunt extraterrestrial life, and workingat 100 times the speed.
The capabilities of theproject are such that Breakthrough Initiatives states that it willbe able to detect a radio signal no more powerful than that used in acommercial aircraft coming from any of the thousand closest stars toEarth, or a laser with the equivalent energy of a standard householdlight bulb at a distance of 25 trillion miles.
To handle the vastamount of data generated by the observatories, BL intends toinnovate powerful open source software that will enable members ofthe general public to make a material contribution to the project bycreating their own search tools, and donating unused CPU space toboost the projects computing prowess.
Alongside BL, Breakthrough Initiatives intend to run an open competition, BM, whichwould open a dialogue regarding how and what the message should be ifBL is actually successful in identifying the markers of intelligentlife out in the stars.
The BM competitioncarries a US$1,000,000 prize pool. Submissions are required to be indigital format, and must constitute a representation of humanity andplanet Earth. The challenge of the message lies with the task ofrelating information to a life form with no shared culture orexperiences with humanity. Breakthrough Initiatives has pledged notto unilaterally transmit any message until a global debate has takenplace.
Professor StephenHawking summed up the ethos and drive behind the project perfectlywhen he simply stated regarding humanity, "We are alive. We areintelligent. We must know."
Have a look at video presentation below, courtesy of Breakthrough Initiatives.