Extraterrestrial life is targeted in a multi-million-dollar-funded venture that is offering $1 million in prizes for writing messages to send into space. The ambitious project is called Breakthrough Message, and is the brainchild of Russian billionaire Yuri Milner.
Milner is well known in venture capital circles, where his investment group, DST Global, has provided more than $5 billion in funding for successful startups such as Twitter, Alibaba, Wish, WhatsApp, Flipcard, and Facebook, among many others.
In short, Milner is the real deal, and so is the prize money offered in the international competition for creating digital messages “that represent humanity and planet Earth.” The winning messages will be delivered to extraterrestrials through Milner’s sister project, Breakthrough Listen, which will rent thousands of hours of time on two of the most powerful radio telescopes in the world – Australia’s Parkes Observatory and the mammoth National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia.
Breakthrough Listen will also develop new receiver technologies by a team of astronomers. Both projects are launched by the umbrella group Breakthrough Initiatives.
The projects were announced at The Royal Society in London on July 20 by the core leaders, including renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, who made a keynote address.
“Somewhere in the cosmos, perhaps intelligent life might be watching these lights of ours, aware of what they mean. Or do our lights wander a lifeless cosmos, unseen beacons announcing that, here on one rock, the universe discovered its existence?
Either way, there is no better question. It’s time to commit to finding the answer, to search for life beyond Earth. The Breakthrough Initiatives are making that commitment. We are alive. We are intelligent. We must know.”
Before receiving an MBA from Wharton School of Business, Yuri Milner finished an undergraduate degree in theoretical physics and was a doctoral candidate in particle physics. As a child, he developed a fascination with the possibility of extraterrestrial life.
“In the last five years, we have discovered that planets in the habitable zone of stars are common. Based on the numbers discovered so far, there are estimated to be billions more in our galaxy alone. And there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the visible Universe.”
This will not be the first attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial life. In 1972, celebrity astronomer, the late Carl Sagan, wrote messages on gold-anodized aluminum plaques which were sent aboard the Pioneer 10 spacecraft. The message was a graphic showing the position of planet earth in the solar system, the direction of the Pioneer launch, and a nude sketch of a man and a woman. Sagan, always on the search for intelligent life in the universe, thought that there was a possibility that the probe could be intercepted by aliens. Communication was lost in 2003 when Pioneer was 621,371,192 miles (12 billion km) away from earth, due to a loss of electrical power from the onboard generators.
In 1974, a message was transmitted to aliens in space via frequency modulated radio waves from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. The message, known as the Arecibo Message, was in binary digits, and it was written by Dr. Frank Duke of Cornell University and Carl Sagan. It targeted intelligent life in globular star cluster M13.
It was hoped that an intelligent alien could decipher the digital hieroglyphics. At the very least, the message to extraterrestrial life would convey an intelligent transmission from somewhere in the vast universe.
In 1977, the Voyager 1 spacecraft launched with a 12″ gold-plated copper phonograph record, complete with a portable player. The recording has sounds of everyday life from planet earth including sounds that animals make, music from different cultures, greetings in 55 earthling languages, and a baby crying. In 2012, Voyager 1 reached interstellar space, the space between stars, at about 53 light years away.
Every day, billions of ordinary people on planet Earth send their own messages to extraterrestrial life — these messages are called prayers.
[Press conference photo courtesy of Breakthrough Initiatives]