Credit: Breakthrough Initiatives

Credit: Breakthrough Initiatives

It is being billed as “the most powerful, comprehensive, and intensive scientific search ever” to look for signs of intelligent life in the Universe.

The international endeavor is known as the Breakthrough Listen, and effort to scan the nearest million stars in our own Galaxy and stars in 100 other galaxies for the telltale radio signature of an advanced civilization.

The Breakthrough Listen initiative was announced this week at the Royal Society in London. Internet investor Yuri Milner is backing the 10 year enterprise to the tune of $100 million.

Yuri Milner announces Breakthrough Life in the Universe Initiatives, joined by theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, Cosmologist and astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees, Chairman Emeritus, SETI Institute Frank Drake, Creative Director of the Interstellar Message, NASA Voyager Ann Druyan and Professor of Astronomy, University of California Geoff Marcy. The press conference was held at The Royal Society on July 20, 2015 in London, England. Credit: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images for Breakthrough Initiatives

Yuri Milner announces Breakthrough Life in the Universe Initiatives, joined by theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, Cosmologist and astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees, Chairman Emeritus, SETI Institute Frank Drake, Creative Director of the Interstellar Message, NASA Voyager Ann Druyan and Professor of Astronomy, University of California Geoff Marcy. The press conference was held at The Royal Society on July 20, 2015 in London, England.
Credit: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images for Breakthrough Initiatives

Multi-disciplinary search

This decade-long, multi-disciplinary search effort will harness the world’s largest telescopes to mine data from the nearest million stars, Milky Way and a hundred galaxies.

The initiative was announced by Milner on July 20 in London at The Royal Society – the 46th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing.

Milner was joined by several experts, including physicist Stephen Hawking, Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, SETI research pioneer Frank Drake, UC Berkeley astronomy professor Geoff Marcy and postdoctoral fellow Andrew Siemion, as well as the former head of NASA Ames Research Center and now Breakthrough Prize Foundation chairman, Pete Worden.

Participating organizations

Contracts have been signed with participating organizations that will given a listen for ET.

For example, the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope (GBT) will join in the search, receiving roughly $2 million per year for 5 years. The 100-meter GBT is the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, located in West Virginia.

Green Bank Telescope (GBT) will join in the search, receiving roughly $2 million per year for 5 years. The 100-meter GBT is the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, located in West Virginia. Credit: NSF

Green Bank Telescope (GBT) will join in the search, receiving roughly $2 million per year for 5 years. The 100-meter GBT is the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, located in West Virginia.
Credit: NSF

In addition to the GBT, the Parkes Telescope in Australia will also be involved in the ET search endeavor.

In tandem with the radio searching, the Automated Planet Finder Telescope at Lick Observatory in California will undertake the world’s deepest and broadest search for optical laser transmissions from extraterrestrial intelligence.

What’s the message?

As part of the new venture, a “Breakthrough Message” was also detailed, an international competition to create digital messages that represent humanity and planet Earth. The pool of prizes will total $1,000,000.

While details on the competition are to be announced at a later date, this particular initiative is not a commitment to send messages.

“It’s a way to learn about the potential languages of interstellar communication and to spur global discussion on the ethical and philosophical issues surrounding communication with intelligent life beyond Earth,” notes the Breakthrough Listen website.

SETI@home

Breakthrough Listen will also be joining and supporting SETI@home, the University of California, Berkeley distributed computing platform. It involves nine million volunteers around the world donating their spare computing power to search astronomical data for signs of life. Collectively, they constitute one of the largest supercomputers in the world.

The Breakthrough Listen team will use and develop the most powerful software for sifting and searching through the flood of data. All software will be open source.

Both the software and the hardware used in the Breakthrough Listen project will be compatible with other telescopes around the world. That makes it possible for others to join the search for intelligent life.

As well as using the Breakthrough Listen software, scientists and members of the public will be able to add to it, developing their own applications to analyze the data.

Looking for the "Wow" factor. (L-R) Theoretical Physicist Stephen Hawking, Cosmologist and astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees and Chairman Emeritus, SETI Institute Frank Drake attend a press conference on the Breakthrough Life in the Universe Initiatives. Credit: Stuart C. Wilson/2015 Getty Images for Breakthrough Initiatives

Looking for the “Wow” factor. (L-R) Theoretical Physicist Stephen Hawking, Cosmologist and astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees and Chairman Emeritus, SETI Institute Frank Drake attend a press conference on the Breakthrough Life in the Universe Initiatives.
Credit: Stuart C. Wilson/2015 Getty Images for Breakthrough Initiatives

More sensitive searches

For the Breakthrough Listen program, UC Berkeley will build high-speed digital electronics and high-bandwidth signal processing instruments to gather and analyze the radio and optical data collected by the telescopes, and will train the next generation of SETI scientists,

According to Dan Werthimer, one of the leaders of the effort, and also a co-founder and chief scientist of the SETI@home project, he predicts that this dedicated telescope time will make SETI searches 50 times more sensitive than today and cover 10 times more sky.

New signal processors will be able to analyze five times the number of radio wavelengths 100 times faster, Werthimer adds.

Groundwork for the future

“Even if we don’t detect a signal from advanced life beyond Earth,” said Andrew Siemion, Director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center, “the detection limits obtained by the Breakthrough Listen searches will be the most rigorous ever achieved, and the technology developed will lay the groundwork for SETI searches for many decades to come.”

Meanwhile, today NASA announced that the Kepler spacecraft mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a Sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”

To view a video of the press conference, go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxdP470sLRg

For more information on the Breakthrough Initiatives, go to:

http://www.breakthroughinitiatives.org/

Leave a Reply