Search for alien life just got US$100m funding with help from Stephen Hawking

20 Jul 2015

In what appears to be incredible news, billionaire tech investor Yuri Milner, with the help of esteemed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, has launched a US$100m fund to try and find alien life in the universe.

While groups like SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) have been on the search for alien life for decades, their lack of resources have always limited their efforts, but now, the newly-announced funds will greatly help the search using the world’s most powerful telescopes.

The announcement came at the Royal Society in London, where they launched the Breakthrough Initiative, which will dedicate 10 years of scientific study to the search and will also create a lucrative competition to create a digital message that encapsulates humanity to send to deep space .

The winner of this competition will not only be able see their work potentially being the first thing an alien species comes into contact with, but will also receive US$1m for their troubles.

Milner’s investment is incredibly important given that US$100m sourced from his own personal fortune marks the largest single grant ever given towards the search for extra-terrestrials, more than tripling the US$30m given by Microsoft’s Paul Allen in 2009.

Time to commit to finding alien life

According to Forbes, a typical grant given to SETI is more akin to something between US$100,000 and US$600,000.

Speaking at the launch, Stephen Hawking said that this is important for understanding mankind’s place in the universe.

“We believe that life arose spontaneously on Earth, so in an infinite universe there must be other occurrences of life,” Prof Hawking said. “Somewhere in the cosmos perhaps intelligent life may be watching these lights of ours, aware of what they mean. It’s time to commit to finding the answer to search for life beyond earth. The Breakthrough Initiative is making that commitment.”

With this new wealth of funding, the Breakthrough Initiative will allow SETI to cover 10 times as much sky with their radio telescopes when the project begins in January 2016 and will search through 1m of Earth’s closest stars for signs of intelligent life.

ET found from home

Aside from Stephen Hawking, the project has on its advisory team two of the world’s leading figures in astrophysics, including Frank Drake, known for the Drake equation, and Martin Rees, an astrophysicist at Cambridge University.

Stargazers at home will also be able to access this new wealth of information through SETI’s SETI@home programme, which will be able to monitor the skies using these high-powered telescopes and aid in finding extra-terrestrial life.

Speaking of this part of the venture, Milner said: “We’re bringing some Silicon Valley philosophy into this.

“All the data we accumulate will be open to the public, and we’ll make it available both for professionals and amateurs and hackers.”

Radio space telescope image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic