Astronomers are preparing to launch humanity’s most intense effort yet to find other civilizations in the universe, and they have Stephen Hawking’s support. Focusing on planets in our galaxy and beyond, some of the world’s leading astronomers will listen for radio signals using two of the largest radio telescopes on the planet. Speaking about the project, Hawking said “Mankind has a deep need to explore, to learn, to know. We also happen to be sociable creatures. It is important for us to know if we are alone in the dark.”


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The researchers have secured a lot of time on the radio telescope at the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia, the largest steerable telescope on Earth, and the Parkes Observatory in New South Wales. The search will begin in January, 2016. The Lick Observatory in California will also search for optical laser transmissions from other planets. The telescopes will scan the center of the Milky Way as well as the entire length of the galactic plane.

The Royal Society, in concert with Stephen Hawking, launched the project with a slew of leading experts at the helm, according to the Guardian, including Lord Martin Rees, the astronomer royal, Geoff Marcy, who has discovered more planets beyond the solar system than anyone, and the veteran US astronomer Frank Drake, a pioneer in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (Seti).

Related: ALMA – The world’s largest telescope array powers up in Chile’s Atacama desert

Hawking said, “It’s time to commit to finding the answer, to search for life beyond Earth. Mankind has a deep need to explore, to learn, to know. We also happen to be sociable creatures. It is important for us to know if we are alone in the dark.”

The experts generally agree that it is safer to listen than to send messages out into space. Hawking said a civilization that reads 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.” For this reason, Hawking has also asked that the Voyager probes be turned around.

The money for the latest alien hunt is coming from Russian businessman Yuri Milner, who is putting up the entire £100m himself.

Via Gizmodo

Lead image via Shutterstock; others via brewbooks and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center