Stephen Hawking’s $100 Million Plan to Find Extraterrestrial Life

April 12, 2016

Space is made up of almost nothing. Yet amongst the nothingness arises the sound of Earth, teeming with life at every corner. We are the only life that we know exists. The sound of humanity’s lonely existence is almost deafening. Which brings up the million dollar question (or in this case, $100 mill), are we alone?

Earth all Alone[Image Source: Kevin Gill]

Man’s curiosity for space and our own existence is ever expanding. From John F. Kennedy’s announcement to send man to the moon in 1961, to NASA’s more ambitious plan to send man to Mars, humans consistently push the limits of knowledge and power. But how far can it be taken? Of course, the biggest question being are we alone?

SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) once set out to search for extraterrestrial life by setting up 42 large radio telescopes to scan the cosmos for signature signals of intelligent life. Alas, the project was finally terminated, rendering the 50 years and the millions spent scanning the sky utterly wasted without any sign of life. Now, all 42 radio telescopes sit still, baking in the sun. But all hope was not lost.

SETI Radio Telescope [Image Source: Amanda Slater]

In July of 2015, Stephen Hawking and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, announced the most ambitious plan ever to find alien life. The scan will be 50 times more sensitive, and is set to cover 10 times the amount of sky that any search for aliens has ever performed. Astronomers, physicists, and scientists alike are all teaming up for the most comprehensive search for aliens over a 10 year period. The plan includes a $100 million budget and thousands of hours of time booked at the most powerful observatories on the planet including the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia (the largest steerable telescope on the planet), and the Parkes Observatory in New South Wales, along with the Lick Observatory in California which will perform the most extensive optical laser transmissions search for beams from other planets.

Stephen Hawking[Image Source: Lwp Kommunikáció]

The extensive search will survey the closest 1 million stars in the Milky Way, as well as scan the nearest 100 galaxies. The search will take some time to complete, and much more time to review the results. But in the end, it should be worth it since as Hawking said at the Royal Society “We believe that life arose spontaneously on Earth, so in an infinite universe, there must be other occurrences of life”. In 10 years time, maybe we will know more about our universe that we live in, alone, or in company. Until then, the best we can do is teach science and inspire the young generations to pursue knowledge, to always expand their horizons.

SETI Searches for aliens[Image Source: Gary]

Science is an epic journey of discovery. It’s part of the brilliant minds that came before us, and the brilliant minds of many more to come. It is the burning ambitious will and desire to unlock the keys to the universe. Although we may not have all the keys, perhaps we will find one, one day, that will answer the burning question:

Are we alone?

Galaxy[Image Source: Joel Tonyan]

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