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Breakthrough Listen Launches Survey Of The Milky Way In Search Of Alien Life

May 08, 2018 11:59 PM EDT
Stars In The Milky Way
Breakthrough Listen is dedicated to finding signs of alien life in the cosmos, and the hunt begins in the Milky Way with the upgraded Parkes telescope.
(Photo : Ye Aung Thu | AFP/Getty Images)

Breakthrough Listen begins the hunt for aliens, surveying billions of stars in the galaxy in hopes of catching a sign of extraterrestrial life.

The survey uses the CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope from New South Wales, Australia.

According to a report from, this Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project began with a target of star clusters just a few light-years away, but Breakthrough Listen has expanded the search to include parts of the Milky Way.

It is one of the most comprehensive SETI projects to date.

Parkes Scours The Stars

Updates to the Parkes telescope are key to the search's expansion, specifically the digital instrumentation that's able to record massive data from the new multi-beam receiver. The Parkes used to have a receiver that only focused on one point at a time, but the upgraded receiver has 13 beams, making the survey faster and more capable of covering a larger area.

The new receiver is also capable of rejecting radio frequency interference of human origins, which means it's better suited to distinguish alien noise. Additionally, the search will commence at an eye-popping 130 gigabits per second.

"With these new capabilities, we are scanning our galaxy in unprecedented detail," Danny Price, Parkes Project Scientist with the Breakthrough Listen project at UC Berkeley, says. "By trawling through these huge datasets for signatures of technological civilizations, we hope to uncover evidence that our planet, among the hundreds of billions in our galaxy, is not the only one where intelligent life has arisen."

The Data

With the upgraded Parkes, Breakthrough Listen is able to observe the plane of the Milky Way and a region of its Galactic Center, which is one of the densest neighborhoods in the entire galaxy. The survey will cover a section of the Milky Way that has tens of billions of stars.

The team behind the survey will be collecting 1,500 hours of observations in 2018 alone, which will give them raw data of nearly 100 petabytes. These will be scoured for signals hinting at artificial origin, which has to be differentiated by human-generated radio frequency interference.

Breakthrough Listen

Breakthrough Listen has an open data policy, Forbes notes, which means that all the information collected by Parkes will be available online for everyone.

The $100 million initiative Breakthrough Listen is backed by notable names including Mark Zuckerberg and the late Stephen Hawking.

"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?" Hawking said during the initiative's launch in 2015, according to "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."

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