Stephen Hawking launches quest to discover life in outer space

Scientist teams up with Russian billionaire in search for extraterrestrial intelligence

Professor Stephen Hawking speaks at a media event to launch a global science initiative as Cosmologist Martin Rees and Astronomer Frank Drake look on at The Royal Society in London. Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters

Professor Stephen Hawking speaks at a media event to launch a global science initiative as Cosmologist Martin Rees and Astronomer Frank Drake look on at The Royal Society in London. Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters

 

Physicist Stephen Hawking has teamed up with a Russian billionaire to launch a new quest to discover life on other planets.

The celebrated scientist has given his backing to Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Initiatives project, which will provide $100 million (€92 million) over the next decade to those searching for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Mr Milner, an entrepreneur who made his fortune through investments in technology companies such as Facebook, said he will harness the innovation of Silicon Valley to scan the skies for signs of life, including searching the entire Milky Way and 100 nearby galaxies

The Breakthrough Listen branch of the project will use the world’s finest telescopes to carry out state-of-the-art radio and optical surveys.

Mr Milner called it the “most comprehensive search programme ever”, and claimed the project would gather more information in one day than in a year of previous research.

‘We are intelligent, we must know’

Announcing his support for the project, Mr Hawking said: “I am here today because I believe the Breakthrough Initiatives are critically important.

“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. 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. We believe that life arose spontaneously on Earth so in an infinite universe there must be other occurrences of life.

“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 our rock, the universe discovered its existence?

“Either way, there is no bigger question. It is time to commit to finding the answer to search for life beyond Earth. The Breakthrough Initiatives are making that commitment. We are life, we are intelligent, we must know.”

PA