Stephen Hawking, along with a group called Breakthrough, launched two initiatives in July to try to find alien life elsewhere in the universe. Yuri Milner, a Russian billionaire, is bankrolling the project.
The first part is called Breakthrough Initiative, and will see $100 million invested to search the skies using the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia and the Parkes Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. It will be 50 times more sensitive than previous searches, and cover 10 times more space than anyone has ever tried before. That starts in 2016.
The second part of the initiative is called “Breakthrough Message” and will offer prizes totaling $1 million to whomever can come up with the best message to send in to space, in case alternate lifeforms are listening to Earth. Details of the competition have not yet been released, but according to the Breakthrough Initiatives website, they promise not to beam any messages in to space until “a wide-ranging debate at high levels of science and politics on the risks and rewards of contacting advanced civilizations” has taken place.
The astronomers and philosophers at SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) are now entering the contest. At a conference in Leeds last week, they discussed how the content of this message needs to be updated from what NASA sent up aboard the Pioneer 10 spacecraft in the ’70s. According to Jill Stuart at the London School of Economics:
“We really need to rethink that with any messages we are sending out now. Attitudes have changed so much in just 40 years. I would be uncomfortable with sending out any images or messages that include Western-dominated material.”