The Breakthrough Listen initiative’s search for extra-terrestrial intelligent life just got a big boost thanks to hardware upgrades at Australia’s Parkes Radio Telescope.
The upgraded equipment will help scientists conduct faster surveys of the sky and will provide an ability to scan the Milky Way’s disk and bulge in unparalleled detail.
The Australian radio telescope facility has been listening for ETI activity for Breakthrough Listen since 2016.
Before the installation of the improved equipment, astronomers at Parkes could only survey a small area of space that is made up of mostly of stars within a few light-years of Earth.
Now, the survey has been expanded to cover a much larger band of the Milky Way visible from the site and focus on millions of stars to look for signs of ETI.
The Breakthrough Initiatives are, according to their website… “A program of scientific and technological exploration, probing the big questions of life in the Universe: Are we alone? Are there habitable worlds in our galactic neighborhood? Can we make the great leap to the stars? And can we think and act together – as one world in the cosmos?”
The ambitious project was announced in July 2015 by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and the late theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking.
The first two of the four Breakthrough Initiatives to be announced was Breakthrough Listen and Breakthrough Message.
The Breakthrough Listen effort is billed as the most wide-ranging and rigorous search for signs of Extra-Terrestrial-Intelligence that has ever been conducted by the scientific community.
Breakthrough Message was built as worldwide competition offering $1,000,000 in prizes to develop and produce the most appropriate digital messages, representing planet Earth and its people, which might be understood by advanced extra-terrestrial civilizations.
In the spring of 2016, Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg joined the organization’s board, which also announced the Breakthrough Starshot project, the third of the four initiatives.
Breakthrough Starshot focuses on creating new technology that would send a fleet of gram-sized, unmanned, ‘nanocraft’ into deep space traveling at a velocity of 20% the speed of light. The organization says they hope to launch a flyby mission to our galactic next-door neighbor, Alpha Centauri, some time within a generation.
Later in 2016, Breakthrough Watch, the fourth initiative was launched. The goals of this project are to develop Earth/space-based technologies that can discover Earth-like planets outside of our solar system and determine if they could harbor life.