21 Jul 2015

Search for aliens gets $100m boost

7:18 pm on 21 July 2015

Man's quest for discovering life on other planets is getting a $100 million boost from a Russian internet entrepreneur turned Silicon Valley billionaire.

NASA and ESA released this image of the cluster Westerlund 2 and its surroundings to celebrate the Hubble Space Telescope’s 25th year in orbit.

An image of Westerlund 2 and its surroundings, released to celebrate the Hubble Space Telescope's 25th year in orbit. Photo: NASA / ESA / HUBBLE / EUROPEAN SOUTHERN OBSERVATORY / AFP

The project was announced at the Royal Society of London, where Yuri Milner was joined onstage by a group of the world's leading scientists including Stephen Hawking.

Those behind the initiative claim it is the biggest scientific search ever undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth.

The programme will spend at least $100 million in the next decade to search for signals from alien civilisations.

Yuri Milner at a media conference in London, where he and Stephen Hawking annouced the launch of the initiative.

Yuri Milner at a media conference in London, where he and Stephen Hawking annouced the launch of the initiative. Photo: AFP

The funds will support a team of researchers based at the University of California at Berkeley.

They will rent out two of the world's largest telescopes - the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia - and use new signal processing techniques to scan a greater spectrum of radio frequencies than ever before.

Professor Matthew Bailes, an astrophysicist from Melbourne's Swinburne University, has been named as the project's lead investigator in New South Wales.

He said he was "blown away" at the chance to play a key role in the multi-million dollar search for alien life.

"We're going to search for longer. We're going to search different radio stations, if you like, with more clever algorithms, and we'll be using the world's best telescopes.

The initiative was launched by the Breakthrough Initiatives group at the Royal Society in London, the BBC reported.

Speaking at the launch, Prof 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.

"We are alive. We are intelligent. We must know."

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