Inside Stephen Hawking's $100 Million Search For Alien Life

Cosmologist lends his support to the ambitious plan.

ByABC News
July 21, 2015, 11:14 AM

— -- Stephen Hawking is ready to find aliens.

The cosmologist is throwing his support behind a $100 million initiative, funded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, to begin an extensive search for proof of extraterrestrial life.

What makes the search different this time, Hawking said at a news conference on Monday, are the extensive resources and access to some of the most powerful telescopes in the world, which may help answer the lingering question of whether we are alone.

"Mankind has a deep need to explore, to learn to know," Hawking said. "We also happen to be sociable creatures. It is important to us to know if we are alone in the dark."

The team behind the project, which is being called Breakthrough Initiatives, has booked time using two of the world's best telescopes, one in West Virginia, the other in Australia, to beginning scanning the entire Milky Way and neighboring galaxies for radio waves and light sources that could indicate life exists beyond Earth.

The telescopes are 50 times as sensitive and will cover 10 times as much territory as previous searches, according to Breakthrough Initiatives, giving the group what it believes could be mankind's best opportunity yet to take a gamble on finding life outside Earth.

Instead of asking the cosmos if anyone is out there, the project will instead focus on listening.

"A civilization reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead," Hawking said. "If so, they will be vastly more powerful and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria."

The project is scheduled to last one decade, during which time Milner said he plans to give the public access to all of the scientific data collected, along with open source software used to sort through the bounty of information the team plans to collect and hardware that could be compatible with telescopes around the world.

By harnessing the resources and using the power of crowd sourcing, the team believes this could be humanity's best shot yet at finding alien life.

"It's time to commit to finding the answer to search for life beyond Earth," Hawking said. "We are alive, we are intelligent, we must know."