Russian venture capitalist Yuri Milner plans to spend at least $100 million over the next decade on efforts to locate signals from alien civilizations, the New York Times reports.
The Breakthrough Listen initiative aims to advance the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) field by enabling astronomers to detect the kinds of radar used in air traffic control from any of the closest one thousand stars to Earth and to detect a laser with the power output of a common hundred-watt bulb from the distance of the nearest stars some four light-years away. According to Dan Werthimer, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley and a member of the project team, about a third of the funds will be used to build new receiving equipment, while another third will be used to hire students and other astronomers, and the final third will underwrite the costs of observing time on two of the largest radio telescopes in the world — the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the CSIRO Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia. Werthimer, who will oversee analysis of the information, told the Times that the data collected would be made available to all, including the nine million users of SETI@home, a free screensaver program that processes SETI data in the background.
"We could never get enough telescope time," said Frank Drake, an emeritus professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who established SETI in 1960. "Yuri can fix that with the click of a pen."
Milner, founder of the Breakthrough Prizes in fundamental physics, life sciences, and mathematics, has also announced a $1 million Breakthrough Message competition to spur the creation of messages that could be sent if signals from an alien civilization were detected.
"We have a responsibility to not stop searching," Milner told the Times. "It should always be happening in the background. This is the biggest question. We should be listening."