Russian billionaire Yuri Milner gives $100 million to UC Berkeley to discover alien life

In Silicon Valley, there are big bets made daily — on bleeding-edge technology, first-time entrepreneurs and bold business ideas.

And then, there’s this.

Yuri Milner, the Russian billionaire who made his stake in Silicon Valley with early bets on Facebook and Twitter, is personally funding an ambitious new effort to search for intelligent alien life. That’s a $100 million bet on discovering aliens on a galaxy far, far away.

The small fortune goes to researchers at UC Berkeley’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Research Center, a research unit that started in 1961 and conducts experiments looking for radio waves that could signal the existence of intelligent alien life. So far, they haven’t had much luck.

“No unambiguous signals from extraterrestrial intelligence have yet been found,” the center says.

Researchers are hoping Milner’s $100 million investment will change that outcome. The project, called Breakthrough Listen, will survey about a billion stars closest to Earth and listen for any signals from the 100 closest galaxies beyond the Milky Way, according to the Wall Street Journal. The funding will be distributed over 10 years; the project is set to begin next year.

“Our search will be 100 times better than any previous search for intelligent life in the universe,” Geoff Marcy, who chairs UC Berkeley’s SETI, told the Journal.

According to the New York Times, about a third of Milner’s money will go toward building new receiving equipment, and about a third will go toward hiring students and other astronomers.

Milner also announced a $1 million competition, called Breakthrough Message, to create messages that could be sent to other galaxies if we knew there was intelligent life out there to receive them.

Milner, like many tech executives and prominent investors, has a longtime fascination with space, and said Silicon Valley is uniquely equipped with the engineers, software and equipment to discover whether other intelligent species exist.

“With Breakthrough Listen, we’re committed to bringing the Silicon Valley approach to the search for intelligent life in the Universe. Our approach to data will be open and taking advantage of the problem-solving power of social networks,” Milner said in a statement.

The project has endorsement from Stephen Hawking, a world-renowned physicist and cosmologist. Milner and Hawking announced the initiative together Monday at the Royal Society in London.

In a prepared statement at the announcement, Hawking said the contours of space and time, the birth and death of stars, the dance of galaxies and the secrets of black holes could explain the lights in the sky, but not the lights on Earth. “In an infinite universe there must be other occurrences of life,” he said. “Or do our lights wander a lifeless universe? Either way, there is no bigger question.”

Photo: Russian entrepreneur and co-founder of the Breakthrough Prize, Yuri Milner, attends a press conference in London on July 20, 2015, where he and British scientist Stephen Hawking announced the launch of Breakthrough Initiative, a new project to attempt to detect life in the Cosmos. AFP PHOTO / NIKLAS HALLE’N/Getty Images


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  • Jack Lee

    I guess billionaires don’t read the Bible. There are no aliens out there.

  • >> and listen for any signals from the 100 closest galaxies beyond the Milky Way <<
    Why would it have to be beyond the Milky Way? Have they given up any hope of finding intelligent life in this galaxy? Granted, there are millions of beings on one of its planets who voted for Obama TWICE, but still …