by Mark Ollig
Can cutting-edge technology, $100 million, and the assistance of a world-renowned physicist finally answer the question, “Are we alone?”
A bold, new initiative called the “Breakthrough Listen” project, will be funded by a 10-year, $100 million operating budget through its founder, Yuri Milner, a Russian entrepreneur and venture capitalist.
It’s been reported as the most extraordinary scientific research effort for extraterrestrial life in the universe ever undertaken.
Milner said he’s also known as “a technology investor from Silicon Valley.”
Yuri Milner was born in 1961; the same year Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.
The reason his parents named Milner “Yuri” was so that he would be inspired by what Gagarin had accomplished.
In a well-attended press conference last Monday at The Royal Society in London; Milner, world-renowned theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking, and other panel members from the scientific community addressed journalists and reporters.
“There is no greater question. It’s time to commit to finding the answer to search for life beyond Earth. We are alive. We are intelligent. We must know,” Hawking said, using his computerized voice synthesizer.
“Somewhere in the cosmos, perhaps, intelligent life may be watching these lights of ours, aware of what they mean,” he stated before the many members of the press in attendance.
Geoff Marcy, a Professor of astronomy at the University of California, in Berkeley, said new electronic high-bandwidth technology systems being developed will simultaneously scan 10 billion separate radio wave frequencies using field-programmable gate arrays and graphical processing units.
Breakthrough Listen will use advanced technology, such as “optical search,” and will develop powerful software for examining the search results.
Beyond our own Milky Way galaxy, they will be listening for messages from the 100 closest galaxies.
Breakthrough Listen will also be joining and supporting the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) community.
The most powerful telescopes on Earth will examine the center of our galaxy for any indications or transmission signals representing intelligent life.
This initiative will search the approximately 1 million stars closest to Earth for signs of life on the planets orbiting them.
The 100-meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) located in West Virginia is one of the telescopes to be used by Breakthrough Listen.
The total GBT dish surface area, or parabola, is 2.3 acres; roughly the size of two football fields.
Their website is https://science.nrao.edu/facilities/gbt.
Another telescope to be used to search for signals in space which would suggest signs of extraterrestrial life is the 64-meter Parkes Radio Telescope in New South Wales, Australia.
It is the southern hemisphere’s largest telescope.
The website for the Parkes Radio Telescope is http://www.parkes.atnf.csiro.au.
The Hubble Space Telescope has brought us some amazing views of our universe; yet, it is unable to tell us whether life – or intelligent life for that matter – exists elsewhere in this celestial ocean we are floating in.
In addition, the Hubble is no longer being maintained as in years past, via Space Shuttle visits, and is projected to be operational for just another five or six years.
The search for other life in the universe could also be discovered with an extremely powerful new radio telescope to be placed in outer space soon.
Construction of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the much improved replacement for the 25-year-old Earth-orbiting Hubble, is nearing completion.
It is being built by NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency.
The JWST is scheduled to launch in October 2018. It will orbit the sun and be located nearly 1 million miles from the Earth.
This powerful new telescope will be “the premier observatory of the next decade,” and will see much further back in time than the Hubble – about 13.5 billion years, when the universe’s first stars and galaxies began forming.
The JWST website is: http://jwst.nasa.gov/index.html.
I refer back to the Breakthrough Listen project.
What if the folks working on this project do confirm extraterrestrial intelligent life on some far away planet – and what happens if those distant inhabitants are technically evolved enough to become aware of us, and make contact?
How should humanity respond?
Should we even take the risk of responding?
Breakthrough Message, a second initiative funded by Milner, will sponsor an “international competition to generate a message representing humanity and planet Earth, which might one day be sent to other civilizations,” per Breakthrough Initiatives website.
A $1 million prize will be awarded to whoever creates a message which best characterizes our planet, and the humans living here.
Yours truly is currently crafting a well-thought-out message for their consideration.
Breakthrough Initiatives search results for finding extraterrestrial life “out there” will be made available to the public. You can follow them at http://www.breakthroughinitiatives.org.
This columnist strongly encourages you to watch this exceptionally-informative and well-organized press conference at http://tinyurl.com/bitsbytes5.
I end this column regarding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, with this sentence by Professor Stephen Hawking, “It is important for us to know if we are alone in the dark.”