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Yuri Milner to pony up $100 million for ET search

The search for alien life is certainly not lacking for will or brainpower, but most purely scientific endeavors are want of funding.

By Brooks Hays
Yuri Milner to pony up $100 million for ET search
Russian billionaire Yuri Milner is funding a $100 million search for extraterrestrial life. Photo courtesy of European Southern Observatory | License Photo

LONDON, July 20 (UPI) -- Russian venture capitalist Yuri Milner announced a $100 million search for extraterrestrial life Monday at a news conference in London.

Milner, who has donated millions to science projects through his annual $3 million Fundamental Physics Prizes, said he was inspired by the growing ability of missions like Kepler to locate exoplanets in the "habitable zone" -- where life might be able to thrive.

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"For the first time," Milner explained, "we have scientific evidence of how many places can harbor life."

The search for alien life is certainly not lacking for will or brainpower, but most purely scientific endeavors are want of funding.

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"We could never get enough telescope time," said Frank Drake, a professor from University of California, Santa Cruz who joined Milner's project. "Yuri can fix that with the click of a pen."

Drake and cosmologist Stephen Hawking joined Milner at the press conference.

The newly announced 10-year project is dubbed the Breakthrough Listen initiative; it will exist as part of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and include scientists from Berkeley, Cambridge, NASA and other prestigious research institutions.

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Milner's money will buy scientists there significant observation time on a number of powerful radio and optical telescopes, including West Virginia's Green Bank Telescope and Australia's Parkes Telescope.

Scientists on the project will also employ new technology. Engineers with SETI are hoping to adapt electronic equipment to scan the so-called quiet zone -- where gaps in deep space allow radio waves to travel uninterrupted for long periods of time. Researchers will look for certain frequencies that only intelligent beings could be responsible for.

Researchers acknowledge that the search for alien "signals" involves a lot of guesswork, but Milner says it's not crazy.

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"We have a responsibility to not stop searching," Milner said in an interview. "It should always be happening in the background. This is the biggest question. We should be listening."

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