Monday, July 27, 2015

SPACE - Search For Life

"To find life in the universe, a new initiative to help us hear the signals" PBS NewsHour 7/20/2015


SUMMARY:  Are we alone in the universe?  A new project called the Breakthrough Initiative may help scientists like Stephen Hawking get closer to the answer.  Tech investor Yuri Milner pledged $100 million to help survey one million of the closest stars to Earth for signals from other forms of intelligent life.  Gwen Ifill discusses the project with Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The search for signs of intelligent life in the universe may have been a fruitless one so far, but the effort got a major boost today with a new initiative from scientists Stephen Hawking and others.

Using some of the world’s biggest radio telescopes, the project will spend the next 10 years surveying a million of the closest stars to Earth, trying to find any signals from the 100 closest galaxies.  It’s called the Breakthrough Initiative and it’s funded by Russian billionaire and Silicon Valley tech investor Yuri Milner.  He’s pledged $100 million for the project.

Earlier today in London, physicist Stephen Hawking spoke to reporters about the eternal quest.

STEPHEN HAWKING, Physicist (through computer voice):  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.

GWEN IFILL:  Andrew Siemion is director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and is affiliated with the Breakthrough Initiative.  The acronym SETI stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

Andrew Siemion, thank you for joining us.

So, aside from Hollywood movies, how hard have we been looking for extraterrestrial life in the universe?

ANDREW SIEMION, Director, Berkeley SETI Research Center:  We have been looking pretty hard.

The modern radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence, this is the experiment to try to detect extraterrestrial technologies by their radio emissions, has been going on for about 55 years.

GWEN IFILL:  This $100 million investment that’s being made, how significant is that and what will it do?

ANDREW SIEMION:  It’s absolutely incredible.  And it’s coming at a very fortuitous time.

In the last couple of years, we have learned that at least 10 percent of the stars in our galaxy have an Earth-like planet, a planet about the size of the Earth that liquid water could exist on the surface.  And at the same time, our computing technology has advanced dramatically.  So we have the opportunity now to pair our knowledge of extrasolar planets and possibilities for life in the universe with incredible advances in computing technology to conduct the most sensitive search for extraterrestrial intelligence that we have ever undertaken in the history of humanity.

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