Stephen Hawking's Ready to Make Contact With Intelligent Extraterrestrials, and He's Got $100 Million Supporting His Endeavor
We’re not alone in this Universe. Or at least, we theorize we’re not. The search for extraterrestrial life has spanned decades, ignited the imaginations of millions, and inspired scientists to spend countless hours scouring data from hundreds of thousands of galaxies.
We’re all fascinated by the idea of intelligent alien life, but we have yet to turn up any life, not even a microscopic bacterium. In spite of all of our efforts, we have not found a single iota of proof that we’re not alone in the vast wilderness of space.
The idea that alien life forms exist beyond our own little planet makes sense. We live in a Universe far grander than our minds can even comprehend. The space Earth occupies is so infinitesimal we are like a grain of sand on the shore of the cosmos. All around us, spreading out into seeming eternity, are billions upon billions of planets. There are an infinite number of biological and chemical combinations occurring on those planets. Some of these happen to be our neighbors, and are being discovered right now by the Kepler spacecraft.
The Kepler spacecraft was launched in March 2009 to start searching for Earth like planets in the Milky Way. This search for habitable planets and even alien life beyond our solar system first began as a revolutionary move. It’s now becoming the norm as our attention turns outwards, beyond our own little corner, and this movement is about to get a huge boost.
This boost is coming with both a big name and a big cash flow. Stephen Hawking announced on Monday that he’s teaming up with Russian tycoon Yuri Milner for a $100 million dollar project that will search for intelligent alien life.
The net we’re casting in our search is going to get a lot wider, and that’s exactly what we need. Studying the planets around us is fascinating in its own right. But if we want to make contact with another intelligent society, we have to invest our time and energy into probing the farthest reaches we can.
The announcement that came Monday did not come with any hard assurances that this would be a successful project. It’s impossible to make a claim like that. But Hawking did say, "We believe that life arose spontaneously on Earth. So in an infinite universe, there must be other occurrences of life."
Working along with Stephen Hawking will be other top scientists, including Frank Drake. Drake pioneered the SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) project in the 1960’s. He was the first person to conduct a modern SETI experiment, and has been passionately pursuing a breakthrough ever since.
The first initiative of this vast project has been dubbed Breakthrough Listen. I believe this project is coming at just the right time to reignite our collective passions for space study. When the space shuttle Endeavor was retired a few years ago it signaled the end of the United States Space Shuttle program. There was wave of grief as it felt like the end of an era. It saddened me to think that kids would no longer have the dream of being an astronaut (at least not in the same way – working aboard the International Space Station is one place Americans can still live the astronaut dream).
For most of us, actually becoming an astronaut on a space shuttle was unrealistic. But the fact that there was a possibility that I could one day be a space explorer positively impacted me as child. There is so much value in keeping kids excited about the idea of exploring and studying space. It helps us to open our minds at a young age, to feel awe and wonder for the creation of our planet, to ponder outside of ourselves, and to use our imaginations in ways we wouldn't otherwise. It's also something that helps people, regardless of age, remain interested in science. Keeping people interested in science and the pursuit of knowledge is something that benefits the entire collective.
And let's be honest, we are a goal driven species. We like to be aiming for goals, whether it's as an individual or as a society, and we love it when we achieve the results we wanted. We like it even more if we can be the first person or group to reach that goal. Hawking and his team have now given us a goal that isn't new, but because it's being backed by an amount of money that wasn't there before, it's suddenly become plausible. Now we can get fired up about this and let our goal-oriented brains turn their attention onto finding solutions. We might even begin what could be the second great space race. This time, instead of racing to the moon, we'll be racing to make contact.
With this new project, there won’t be new opportunities for space travel (at least none proposed so far), but there will be something new for kids to get excited about. They can grow up to be the first person to discover intelligent alien life. I for one hope this fires up the minds of young boys and girls to become scientists, and to dream and imagine as we once did. Instead of dreaming of being astronauts, they can open their young minds to considering how they would communicate with these alien life forms. What would they say to them? What would they want to tell them about us?
For the most part, actual communication and sharing of ideas with other intelligent civilizations is a long ways off. The initial contact will be based around the sending and receiving of radio waves. But even with that, I can’t help but get excited about the idea that billions of light years away, an intelligent life form would see our signal. As the heart of a scientist here beats in trepidation, across the cosmos, the heart of something completely foreign to us races also. This alien life form squints into a telescope, and with sheer wonder and elation proclaims, “There’s something out there! We’ve been contacted!”