SETI—the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence—has been one of the most captivating areas of science since its inception in 1960, when the astronomer Frank Drake used an 85-foot radio telescope in the first-ever attempt to detect interstellar radio transmissions sent by beings outside our solar system. Yet despite its high public visibility and near-ubiquity in blockbuster Hollywood science fiction, throughout most of its 55-year history SETI has languished on the fringes of scientific research, garnering relatively scant funding and only small amounts of dedicated observation time on world-class telescopes.
Today, in a live webcast originating from London and set for 6:30 am Eastern, the Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner, along with the physicist Stephen Hawking, is announcing his intentions to change that. Watch the live streamed event below, starting at 6:30 am.
Although Milner has made his name—and billions of dollars—through investments in Facebook, Alibaba, and many other tech start-ups, his true passion is science, which he has demonstrated through his formation of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation. This organization awards the world's most lavish scientific prizes. Milner's latest project is part of the Foundation's new Breakthrough Initiatives division and is called Breakthrough Listen. Providing $100 million in funding over the next decade to top SETI researchers, Breakthrough Listen will allow new state-of-the-art radio and optical surveys to take place using the world's premiere telescopes, creating the most ambitious and robust SETI program yet performed. The project is set to begin making observations in 2016.
Following the live webcast, Milner and distinguished scientists participating in Breakthrough Listen will conduct a media teleconference to discuss the new project and answer questions. Scientific American will continue to follow this story as it develops.