SETI Gets $100 Million Funding From Russian Billionaire

Russian billionaire venture capitalist Yuri Milner, an early investor in Facebook, Twitter, Alibaba, Groupon and many other tech companies, announced that he is funding with $100 million two global Breakthrough Initiatives to search for intelligent life in the universe.

Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, Frank Drake, Geoff Marcy, Pete Worden, and Ann Druyan joined Milner for the announcement at The Royal Society in London, appropriately timed to coincide with the 46th anniversary of the first manned landing on the Moon.

The first of two initiatives, Breakthrough Listen, will be the most powerful, comprehensive and intensive scientific search ever undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth. The second, Breakthrough Message, will fund an international competition to generate messages representing humanity and planet Earth, which might one day be sent to other civilizations.

The Biggest SETI Project Ever Undertaken

milner-1“With Breakthrough Listen, we’re committed to bringing the Silicon Valley approach to the search for intelligent life in the Universe,” said Milner. “Our approach to data will be open and taking advantage of the problem-solving power of social networks.”

The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), a global research effort dedicated to finding candidate signals from alien intelligences, has always starved for funds. With Milner’s funding, Breakthrough Listen will be 50 times more sensitive than previous programs dedicated to SETI research, scan at least 5 times more of the radio spectrum 100 times faster, and cover 10 times more of the sky than previous programs.

Breakthrough Listen, the biggest SETI project ever undertaken, will process data from two of the world’s most powerful telescopes – 100 Meter Green Bank Telescope in the US, and the 64-metre diameter Parkes Telescope in Australia.

The data generated by the program will be open to the public, and Breakthrough Listen will partner with the citizen-science SETI project [email protected].

The famous 72-seconds “Wow! Signal” received in 1977 by the Big Ear radio telescope had many features to indicate a possible alien origin, but it hasn’t been detected again. SETI scientists and enthusiasts are motivated by the hope to find another “Wow! Signal” that could change our views of the universe forever, showing that our civilization is not alone. Now, Milner is giving SETI a new, much needed boost.

WOW signal

“Right now there could be messages from the stars flying right through the room, through us all,” said SETI pioneer Frank Drake. “That still sends a shiver down my spine.”

The search for intelligent life is a great adventure. And Breakthrough Listen is giving it a huge lift.

Stephen Hawking added that he strongly supports the Breakthrough Initiatives and the search for extraterrestrial life.”

“The Breakthrough Message competition is designed to spark the imaginations of millions,” said Ann Druyan, a renowned American author and producer specializing in productions about cosmology and popular science.

Images from Breakthrough Initiatives.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.