Cosmologist Stephen Hawking has launched the most ambitious search for alien life ever in London on Monday.
Entirely funded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, project Breakthrough Listen will employ the world’s most powerful telescopes: the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia.
Trained physicist Mr Milner made his fortune with Russian internet giant Mail.ru and investments in AirBnB, Twitter and Facebook, and was named after the first man in outer space, Yuri Gagarin.
“We are launching the most comprehensive search program ever,” Mr Milner said at the launch.
“Breakthrough Listen takes the search for intelligent life in the universe to a completely new level.”
The 10-year project will scan the closest one million stars to earth and the 100-closest galaxies, listening for “bumps” that indicate extra-terrestrial life.
During the launch at the Royal Society science academy, Hawking said he believed the likelihood of alien life existing somewhere in the universe was high.
“In an infinite universe, there must be other occurrences of life,” Hawking said.
“Either way, there is no bigger question.
“It’s time to commit to finding the answer, to search for life beyond Earth. We must know.”
Much emphasis was placed on the improved power and efficiency underpinning the new mission.
Mr Milner explained that the data collected in one day during Breakthrough Listen would outstrip data collected in a year during previous attempts.
Breakthrough Listen will also take advantage of up to 9 million volunteers willing to lend their spare computing power to the mission.
A competition to decide what message we should send when and if we find alien life was also announced at the conference.
The competition, called Breakthrough message, will invite the public to submit suggestions, although Hawking emphasised that sending a message in a human language would be futile.
Hawking also warned that communicating with alien life forms could be risky.
“Throughout history… encounters between civilisations with advanced versus primitive technologies have gone badly for the less advanced,” he said.
“A civilization reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead of us. If so, they will be vastly more powerful, and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.”
The Parkes Telescope will begin scanning for signs of life in January 2016, and has been partially chosen for its perfect view of the middle of the milky way.
Film director and Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane lent his voice to the projects’ rousing promotional video, which you can see below.