Breakthrough Listen

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The Green Bank Telescope is one of the radio telescopes used by the project.

Breakthrough Listen is a ten-year $100 million initiative by Russian tycoon Yuri Milner to search for intelligent extraterrestrial life in the Universe.[1][2][3] It is part of Milner's Breakthrough Initiatives, and was announced alongside Breakthrough Message. It has been described as the most comprehensive search for alien communications to date.[2] It began operations in January 2016, with release of the first batch of data in April 2016.[4]


The project aims to discover signs of extraterrestrial civilizations by searching stars and galaxies for radio signals and laser transmissions.

The search for radio signals is carried out on the Green Bank Telescope in the Northern Hemisphere and the Parkes Telescope in the Southern Hemisphere. The Green Bank Telescope is the world's largest steerable radio telescope, and the Parkes Telescope is second largest telescope in the Southern Hemisphere.[5][6] Together, the radio telescopes will cover ten times more sky than previous searches and scan the entire 1-to-10 GHz range, the so-called "quiet zone" in the spectrum where radio waves are unobscured by cosmic sources or Earth’s atmosphere.[7] The radio telescopes are sensitive enough to detect "Earth-leakage" levels of radio transmission for stars within 5 parsecs,[8] and can detect a transmitter of the same power as a common aircraft radar for the 1,000 nearest stars.[9] The Green Bank Telescope began operations in January 2016, with the Parkes Telescope due to join it in October 2016.[8]

The search for optical laser transmissions is carried out by the Automated Planet Finder of Lick Observatory.[10] The telescope has the sensitivity to detect a 100 watt laser from a star 25 trillion miles (4.25 light years) away.[9]


As of April 2016, the targets for the radio search with the Green Bank Radio Telescope in the Northern Hemisphere include the following:[8]

The Parkes Radio Telescope will cover similiar targets in the Southern Hemisphere from 1–4 GHz, and also the galactic plane and center.[8]

The targets for the Automated Planet Finder will closely match those of the Green Bank radio search, with small adjustments due to the telescope's much smaller field of view.[8]

While the telescopes are observing, the current targets of the Green Bank Telescope and the Automated Planet Finder can be viewed live at the Berkeley Seti Research Center.

Data processing

All data generated from Breakthrough Listen project will be open to the public.[11] The data is uploaded on the initiative's Open Data Archive, where any user can download it for software analysis. Breakthrough Initiatives are developing open source software to assist users in understanding and analyzing the data, which are available on GitHub under UCBerkeleySETI.[11]

The data is also processed by the SETI@Home volunteer computer network, with the first batch of data being made available to SETI@Home in April 2016.[4]


The project is funded with $100 million from Yuri Milner.[12]

One third of this funding will be used to purchase telescope time.[13] So far, the project has signed contracts for around 20 percent of the time on the Green Bank Telescope for the next five years, and 25 percent of the time on the Parkes Telescope.[5][14] Another third will be used for the development new equipment to receive and process potential signals,[13] and the final third will be used to hire astronomy staff.[15]


The project is the most comprehensive search for alien communications to date.[2]

It is estimated that the project will generate as much data in one day as previous SETI projects generated in one year.[2] Compared to previous programs, the radio surveys cover 10 times more of the sky, at least 5 times more of the radio spectrum, and work 100 times faster.[16] The optical laser survey is also the deepest and broadest search in history.[16]

Andrew Siemion, a SETI scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, describes that "We would typically get 24–36 hours on a telescope per year, but now we’ll have thousands of hours per year on the best instruments...It’s difficult to overstate how big this is. It’s a revolution."[17]


Physicist Stephen Hawking is among the scientists who have co-signed an open letter of support for Breakthrough Listen.

Breakthrough Listen was announced to the public on 20 July 2015 (the anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing) by Milner at London's Royal Society. The event was flanked by scientists such as Frank Drake, who is known for the Drake equation that estimates the number of detectable alien civilizations, and Geoff Marcy, an astronomer who has helped find hundreds of exoplanets.[18] The announcement included an open letter co-signed by multiple scientists, including physicist Stephen Hawking, expressing support for an intensified search for alien life.[2][19] During the public launch, Hawking said:

"In an infinite Universe, there must be other life. There is no bigger question. It is time to commit to finding the answer."[2]

Project leadership

  • Frank Drake, Chairman Emeritus, SETI Institute; Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of California, Santa Cruz; Founding Director, National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center; Former Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University.
  • Ann Druyan, Creative Director of the Voyager Interstellar Message, NASA Voyager; Co-Founder and CEO, Cosmos Studios; Emmy Award- and Peabody Award-winning writer and producer.
  • Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, Fellow of Trinity College; Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, University of Cambridge.
  • Andrew Siemion, Director, Berkeley SETI Research Center.[20]
  • Dan Werthimer, Co-founder and chief scientist of the SETI@home project; director of SERENDIP; principal investigator for CASPER.
  • Pete Worden, Chairman, Breakthrough Prize Foundation.

See also


  1. Feltman, Rachel (20 July 2015). "Stephen Hawking announces $100 million hunt for alien life". The Washington Post. Retrieved 20 July 2015. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Merali, Zeeya (20 July 2015). "Search for extraterrestrial intelligence gets a $100-million boost. Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announces most comprehensive hunt for alien life.". Nature News. Retrieved 20 July 2015. 
  3. Rundle, Michael (20 July 2015). "$100m Breakthrough Listen is 'largest ever' search for alien civilisations". Wired. Retrieved 20 July 2015. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Breakthrough Initiatives". Retrieved 2016-04-14. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Green Bank Telescope Joins 'Breakthrough Listen' - NRAO: Revealing the Hidden Universe". Retrieved 2016-04-14. 
  6. "Breakthrough Initiatives". Retrieved 2016-04-14. 
  7. "A Russian Tycoon Is Spending $100 Million to Hunt for Aliens". WIRED. Retrieved 2016-04-14. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 "Breakthrough Initiatives". Retrieved 2016-04-14. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Brodkin, Jon. "$100 million search for aliens will listen for messages from 100 galaxies". Ars Technica. Retrieved 24 July 2015. 
  10. "Listen". Breakthrough Initiatives. Retrieved 24 July 2015. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Breakthrough Initiatives". Retrieved 2016-04-14. 
  12. Toor, Amar. "Yuri Milner will spend $100 million to look for aliens". The Verge. Retrieved 24 July 2015. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 ""Breakthrough Listen": Giant Leap for SETI - Sky & Telescope". Sky & Telescope. Retrieved 2016-04-14. 
  14. CSIRO. "CSIRO and Internet investor Yuri Milner strike deal for ET search". Retrieved 2016-04-14. 
  15. Overbye, Dennis (2015-07-20). "Stephen Hawking Joins Russian Entrepreneur’s Search for Alien Life". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-04-14. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 "Breakthrough Initiatives". Retrieved 2016-04-14. 
  17. "Search for extraterrestrial intelligence gets a $100-million boost". Nature News & Comment. Retrieved 2016-04-14. 
  18. Zhang, Sarah. "A Russian Tycoon Is Spending $100 Million to Hunt for Aliens". Wired. Retrieved 11 August 2015. 
  19. Vella, Matt (21 July 2015). "Read the Inspiring 'Questions of Existence' Letter from the World's Greatest Thinkers". Time. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  20. "Breakthrough Initiatives". Breakthrough Initiatives. Retrieved 24 July 2015. 

External links