There is a Russian billionaire looking for aliens. No really I’m serious. Yuri Milner is the man in question and currently he is conducting a $100 million project called the Breakthrough Listen Initiative. Basically, using several telescopes around the world, the project will scour the Milky Way for laser transmissions and radio signals. By no means is this a small feat either. These are some of the largest telescopes on the planet, searching for a wide range of signals across thousands of stars all of which easily leaves SETI in the past. Make no mistake the scale of this endeavor; the largest goals are scanning the nearest million stars and the center of the nearest 100 galaxies. The scale is baffling large and should foster innovative research for decades after its 10 year lifespan.
This project is only one in a series of three altogether called Breakthrough Initiatives. The Breakthrough Message is a $1 million project to design a message to be sent to any possible extraterrestrial life form and Breakthrough Starshot is another $100 million project trying to design a fleet of up to 1000 spacecraft’s, each only a few centimeters long, at 20% the speed of light to Alpha Centauri, the closest star to the sun. They could be there at the quickest in 20 years, with 4 years to discover if they have arrived. The highlight of this mission is that they may pass by Proxima Centauri b, a planet that orbits the star, close to Earth’s size and within the sun’s habitable zone, where astrophysicists think planets may have Earth like conditions and are thus considered habitable. Of course a proper exploration will have to experiment directly to see if these planets are habitable but the spacecraft’s heading there will be equipped with cameras, capable of photographing the planet, even to the extent of visualizing surface features.
This was all announced mid-2015, so why bring it up now? Other than the obvious amazement contained within these projects there has been a new revelation. The National Astronomical Observatories of China have announced they will join the project using their newly built Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST). The size of this telescope is massive alone and will easily expand the capabilities of the project. But a new feature of these modern ideas and projects is that it isn’t a government project, freeing up cooperation to business partners that want to sign up. If I am so fortunate in life to continue writing until the day we have our first pictures from a new planet I will happily provide full coverage and impress on to everyone how monumental a step it is for our species.