A $100 million space science programme, Breakthrough Listen harnesses the power of the world’s top telescopes to detect radio signals from alien civilisations.

Listen is one of Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Initiatives. A Giving Pledge philanthropist and a founder of the Breakthrough Prize, Yuri Milner also wrote the short book Eureka Manifesto.

Listen collaborates with several observatories, including the Green Bank Telescope in the U.S. and the MeerKAT array in South Africa. In 2017, Listen partnered with the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Manchester to continue the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Jodrell Bank

The Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire is home to the 76-metre Lovell Telescope. When it was completed in 1957, the Lovell Telescope was the largest steerable radio telescope in the world. It’s the world’s third-largest today.

The Lovell Telescope plays a leading role in global pulsar research. It also operates a SETI observation project in collaboration with Breakthrough Listen. The Jodrell Bank collaboration involved the Listen and Jodrell Bank teams sharing plans, search methods, and data.

Professor Michael Garrett, director of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, stated that the partnership represented “an important step forward in getting the UK back into the SETI business.”

Jodrell Bank operates the e-MERLIN array alongside the Lovell Telescope. Proposed upgrades to the e-MERLIN telescope would expand its frequency range and enable the detection of transient sources, including possible SETI signals.

The Spirit of Collaboration

Listen has released several results from its partnerships with global observatories since it launched in 2016. While there have been a few promising signal candidates and mysterious radio bursts, so far, the programme hasn’t found conclusive evidence of alien technosignatures (measurable evidence of extraterrestrial life).

The majority of radio signals Listen detects originate from human technology. Filtering these out to identify signatures of extraterrestrial intelligence is rather like searching for a needle in a haystack.

If we’re going to find proof of extraterrestrial intelligence, we need to work together. Partnerships like the one between Breakthrough Listen and Jodrell Bank demonstrate that, when humans collaborate, we increase the likelihood of answering one of the great unsolved questions in science: Are we alone in the Universe?

About Yuri Milner

Yuri Milner is a technology investor with a lifelong passion for cosmology and science. He has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to scientific causes, fulfilling the Giving Pledge commitment that he made with his wife Julia in 2012.

Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge letter emphasises the importance of funding scientific brilliance. As such, the Milners’ Breakthrough Foundation helps support the Breakthrough Prize, a global science competition that the philanthropist founded in 2012.

Sometimes referred to as the “Oscars of Science,” the Breakthrough Prize recognises the world’s leading scientists working in the fundamental sciences. Each year, multiple researchers become Breakthrough Prize laureates and earn prizes worth $3 million.

Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge promise has also led to the Breakthrough Initiatives. A set of astronomical programmes, the Breakthrough Initiatives focus on the fundamental questions of life in the Universe and seek to advance our understanding of the cosmos.

Yuri Milner is the author of Eureka Manifesto: The Mission for Our Civilisation. Available to read online, Eureka Manifesto is a book about humanity’s place in the Universe and our role in its future. In Eureka Manifesto, Yuri Milner argues that human civilisation lacks a shared mission and that we should look beyond Earth to find a common goal.

By Linda