In 1960, astronomer Frank Drake pointed a radio telescope at two stars hoping to hear aliens. The $2,000 initiative proved unsuccessful and a recent lack of funding has meant the search for alien communication has fallen by the wayside. Now, in the biggest breakthrough for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence since, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner has announced $100 million in funding over a decade for SETI researchers to scan the 1,000 closest stars for alien life as part of a new project, Breakthrough Listen. "We have a responsibility to not stop searching," Milner, the man behind the Breakthrough Prize, tells the New York Times. "We should be listening." The money will go toward new receiving equipment, hiring students and astronomers, and securing time on the largest radio telescopes in West Virginia, San Jose, Calif., and Australia, reports Nature.
Scientists have heard "fast radio bursts" in the past, in a typical "24-36 hours on a telescope per year, but now we'll have thousands of hours per year on the best instruments," a SETI scientist says. "It's difficult to overstate how big this is. It's a revolution." The Breakthrough Listen team adds the money will allow scientists to see radar and even tiny lasers from stars up to four light-years away. "It's quite likely that we won't find anything," Milner notes. "But in 10 years' time, there will be even more advances and we can work out the best strategy for the next 10 years of the project, and then maybe the next 10 after that." The observations are expected to begin next year, reports Scientific American, and the data will be made available to the public. Milner is also planning a Breakthrough Message competition. People will be able to submit a digital message that could be broadcast into space. The winner will receive a $1 million prize. (One scientists suspects aliens are huge.)