Renowned research institute UC Berkeley—known for discovering countless elements and vitamins, the polio virus, and even inventing wetsuits—may be able to add another stellar category to their long list of achievements: finding aliens.
Yuri Milner, the Russian billionaire who made his fortune in Silicon Valley with early investments in Facebook and Twitter, is funding an ambitious new effort to search for intelligent alien life in the Milky Way and beyond. On Monday, Milner gifted $100 million of his own money to answer the age-old question: Is there other life out there?
The money goes to researchers at UC Berkeley's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Research Center. Founded in 1961, so far the center hasn't had any luck finding an indication of intelligent life on another planet. Milner's funding, however, may be their big break.
The money for Breakthrough Listen, as Milner calls the project, is one of the biggest chunks of cash ever offered by a private investor for the (so far fruitless) quest for extraterrestrial life. It will fund what will be the largest scientific endeavor to find aliens, in terms of both the expanse of the universe that will be studied, as well as the depth and detail of the data that will be collected and shared with the public.
Through Breakthrough Listen, UC Berkeley scientists will study the nearest million stars, nearest 100 galaxies, and the entire Milky Way galaxy and its billions of stars—a celestial expanse 10 times wider in scope than any previous research endeavors. Using two of the world's largest radio telescopes, they will be looking for any radio waves that could signal the existence of extraterrestrial life.
All data collected from the project, set to begin next year, will be made public for anyone to see, and Breakthrough Listen will offer a platform to developers to build applications to better analyze the celestial data.
The project will span 10 years, which means extraterrestrials could be "phoning home" as early as 2025.