I was talking the other day about what I would do if I had a billion dollars. To be honest, my answer wasn’t all that great. I live a pretty good life right now. Pretty content. So I’d probably up my budget for groceries. Buy nicer steaks and organic chickens and shit like that.
That’s about it.
(The other thing that came to me after the discussion was that I’d open a museum called The Dave, if only so namby art lovers would have to say, “I’m going to The Dave today.”)
It appears I wasn’t thinking big enough, or cool enough, because I love what Russian tycoon Yuri Milner is doing. He’s dropping a cool tenth of a billion to hunt for aliens.
And he’s teaming with the best scientists to do it. Extra-terrestrial balling. From Wired:
Announced today, the ten-year Breakthrough Listen initiative will conduct the most comprehensive sweep of space for signals from intelligent aliens ever.
Milner announced Breakthrough Listen, flanked by scientific luminaries such as Frank Drake, he of the Drake equation that estimates the number of detectable alien civilizations, and Geoff Marcy, an astronomer who has helped find hundreds of exoplanets. (Eminent physicist Stephen Hawking will be there, too, though he himself is not leading the project.)
It sounds like a pimp initiative.
It’s a dream come true,” says Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and another leader on the initiative.
The funding will primarily be used for two big purchases. One, a bulk of time on radio wave telescopes, and two, data processing centers to sift through everything they find.
The key purchase will be thousands of hours per year of observation time on two of the world’s most powerful radio telescopes, the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia. (A specialized optical telescope at the Lick Observatory in California is also involved.)
The Breakthrough Listen researchers will need specialized electronics to process all the data; a room at University of California’s Campbell Hall is already set aside for a team to create the hardware and software to make the search possible.
The hunt will be one of the biggest ever for aliens.
Together, the radio telescopes will cover 10 times more sky than previous searches and scan the entire 1-to-10 gHz range, the so-called “quiet zone” in the spectrum where radio waves are unobscured by cosmic sources or Earth’s atmosphere; presumably, intelligent aliens will know to broadcast in this zone if they want anyone to hear them.
All these ideas have been out there in the SETI community for decades, says Siemion. “We just haven’t had the computing technology and the resources,” he says. Milner’s gift changes that playing field.
Fuck yes. Let’s find some fucking aliens, Bros. The Breakthrough Listen is currently funded for ten years, although Milner is cautioning that it may take longer than that.
But he ain’t care, he’s got the bills.
Milner acknowledges the endeavor will likely take more than the 10 years for which he’s funding the initiative. So what happens if Breakthrough Listen doesn’t find anything? “We’ll roll it over for another 10 years,” says Milner. “Why stop? The question is interesting enough to keep going.”
Very true. Very, very true.
Let’s find some god damn aliens. You know they are out there.