Russian tech investor Yuri Milner is on a mission to answer a fundamental human question: are we alone in the universe. After putting money into projects like Facebook, Twitter, and Groupon among many others, Milner plans to spend $100 million on Breakthrough Listen, a project that will monitor space for messages or signals from extraterrestrial life.
Milner notes that this kind of work used to be covered by government organizations, but now must be handled by private investors and investigators. Breakthrough Listen, currently scheduled as a 10-year-long endeavor, will keep eyes and ears on the skies thanks to a pair of big-time telescopes, West Virginia’s Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope and Australia’s Parkes Telescope in Australia. The stations will be tasked with looking for potential signals coming from space. Stephen Hawking supports the idea and even appeared on a conference call with Milner to do so publicly.
“If a civilization based around one of the 1,000 nearest stars is transmitting to us with the power of a common aircraft radar, the Breakthrough Listen telescopes can detect it,” the organization claimed in a statement. “If they are transmitting from the center of the Milky Way, with any more than a dozen times the output of the interplanetary radars we use to probe our own Solar System, Breakthrough Listen telescopes could detect them.”
The project will also use SETI@home, a U.C. Berkley-based operation that uses volunteers’ computers to help comb through the huge amount of information their telescopes receive in an effort to detect extraterrestrial messages.
However, the goal here isn’t just to receive space information. Milner will also launch a parallel project called Breakthrough Message, which will look at various ways of communicating with life on other planets.