A prestigious international scientific prize has committed $100m over the next ten years to mankind’s biggest ever search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI).
In a deal announced at London’s Royal Society, the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, an organisation established by, amongst others, google-founder Sergey Brin and Russian tycoon Yuri Milner, will fund the University of California, Berkeley’s Breakthrough Listen project.
The initiative, which has been welcomed by leading scientists including Professor Stephen Hawking, and Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, will enable scientists to scan our entire galaxy of 200 billion stars, and even scan distant galaxies.
According to the foundation, the funding will help secure dedicated time on some of the world’s most powerful telescopes, specifically the 100m Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the 64m Parkes Telescope in New South Wales. It will also allow the Automated Planet Finder at the Lick Observatory near San Jose to search for optical laser signals from other planets.
According Dan Werthimer, who heads up UC Berkeley’s SETI research programs, this dedicated telescope time will make SETI searches 50 times more sensitive than today and cover 10 times more sky. He added that the Berkeley team will also use the funding to develop new signal processing instruments that will be able to analyse five times the number of radio wavelengths 100 times faster.
It’s estimated that the telescopes could detect a radar signal the strength of that broadcast by an aircraft carrier if transmitted by any of the 1,000 nearest star systems. The project could also detect a 100-watt laser from our nearest stars.
According to a report on the UC Berkeley website the data acquired by the program could ultimately constitute the largest amount of scientific data ever to be made publically available.