RUSSIA - Yesterday, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announced that he will spend $100 million to further the search for life beyond Earth. His plan, called "Breakthrough Listen," uses radio telescopes and a handpicked team of scientists to conduct a ten-year search for radio signals that would be indicative of life. Milner's estimate is that during the span of the project, radio transmissions can be collected from the Milky Way as well as 100 other nearby galaxies. Scientists will then look for patterns in the data and figure out what radio signals came from natural causes and what, if any, came from intelligent life. (Source: Reuters)
The financial backing behind "Breakthrough Listen" is unprecedented. Typically, the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) receives less than $2 million a year.
Most of the money will be spent in renting time to use radio telescopes, including those at Australia's Parkes Observatory in New South Wales and the Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia. Astronomers must pay top dollar to use these telescopes and most can only afford to reserve a few days of sky-watching time. Milner plans to book the telescopes for two months every year -- admittedly an inconvenience for other scientists jockeying for time at the observatories.
Advising Milner and his team are Frank Drake, former partner of Carl Sagan and chairman of SETI, and physicist Stephen Hawking.
NASA has long known that there are "Goldilocks planets" -- Earthlike, potentially habitable planets. The term references the Goldilocks fairy-tale's quest for something "just right" -- for instance, an atmosphere that isn't too hot to cause all water to evaporate nor too cold for water to become inaccessibly frozen. Breakthrough Listen will find out if anything on these planets has something to say.