The search for extraterrestrial life stepped up a notch today with the announcement from renowned Professor Stephen Hawking that he is backing a new initiative which will use sound in an attempt to answer the long asked question of “is there life in space?”
The $100 million initiative, reportedly the biggest to date in support of the search for life in space as we know it, will involve a ten year period of eavesdropping on broadcast signals from one million stars closest to Earth.
Speaking on behalf of the Breakthrough Initiatives group at the Royal Society in London today, Hawking said: "Somewhere in the cosmos, perhaps, intelligent life may be watching these lights of ours, aware of what they mean. Or do our lights wander a lifeless cosmos - unseen beacons, announcing that here, on one rock, the Universe discovered its existence. Either way, there is no bigger question. It's time to commit to finding the answer - to search for life beyond Earth," he said.
"We are alive. We are intelligent. We must know."
The public was encouraged to help in the efforts to find a signal from space through the [email protected] project.
The Breakthrough Initiatives group claims the search for "signs of intelligent life" will cover an area 10 times bigger than any previous program, and will scan five times more of the spectrum of radio broadcast signals at a speed 100 times faster than before, using the Green Bank Telescope which is in West Virginia, USA, and the Parkes Telescope in the Australian State of New South Wales.
The Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees said "The search for extraterrestrial life is the most exciting quest in 21st-century science. The Breakthrough Initiatives aim to put it on the same level as the other ultimate scientific questions."
The man bankrolling the initiative is Yuri Milner, the US based high tech billionaire, He said he believed technology was now at a stage where it was possible to put listening for extraterrestrial intelligence signs in a proper scientific context.
Current technology gives us a real chance to answer one of humanity's biggest questions: Are we alone?," he said . "With Breakthrough Listen, we're committed to bringing the Silicon Valley approach to the search for intelligent life in the Universe. Our approach to data will be open and taking advantage of the problem-solving power of social networks."
Hawking added that the search for extraterrestrial life was one of the most important scientific endeavours humans had to attempt.
"To understand the Universe, you must know about atoms - about the forces that bind them, the contours of space and time, the birth and death of stars, the dance of galaxies, the secrets of black holes."But that is not enough," he said.
"These ideas cannot explain everything. They can explain the light of stars, but not the lights that shine from planet Earth.To understand these lights, you must know about life. About minds."