Perhaps it’s because The X-Files is making a comeback, or because Virgin Galactic isn’t taking off anytime soon, but a Russian billionaire announced today that he is going to fund the "biggest ever" attempt to find extraterrestrial civilisations.
Named after Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet astronaut who really won the space race, Yuri Milner isn't some E.T. fan with a deep pocket. He's backed by Professor Stephen Hawking. Together, their aim is to examine the stars closest to Earth (one million of them), and look further into the centre of the Milky Way in the hope of finding intelligent neighbours.
A former scientist, Milner is worth £1.2billion, with early stakes in Facebook, Twitter and most other apps you use on a daily basis (WhatsApp and Spotify included). His funding of £64million is set to bring “the Silicon Valley approach to the search for intelligent life in the Universe”. What's more, his approach to data will be "open and taking advantage of the problem-solving power of social networks.”
The project, known as Breakthrough Listen (who we could have sworn came second in an X-Factor series), will spend two thirds of the investment in equipment (100 times faster than any current equipment) and hiring astronomers to cover data processing and to look for radio signals in distant solar systems.
The rest of the money will be used to rent out two of the world’s most powerful telescopes, the Green Bank Telescope in Virginia and the Parkes Telescope in Australia, to cover a patch of space 10 times bigger than any other search. Over ten years, the telescopes will be zooming in on areas with a resolution 50 times greater than anything ever used before.
And you thought we’d made progress with HD Netflix.