On May 7, Breakthrough Listen announced updates to the CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope in New South Wales, Australia, that will allow it to scan millions of stars across the Milky Way over the next 60 days.
The $100 million Breakthrough Listen project was founded by a group of scientists, including late physicist Stephen Hawking, in 2016 based on the notion that we should be listening for signs of extraterrestrials — not just looking.
Breakthrough’s previous effort with Parkes only scanned one single point of the sky at a time, with a focus on stars near the sun. But the telescope’s latest updates allow scientists to scan the entire sky at 130 gigabits per second — which is thousands of times the bandwidth of your laptop’s internet connection on its best day.
“With these new capabilities, we are scanning our galaxy in unprecedented detail,” Danny Price, a research fellow at Breakthrough Listen, said in a statement. “By trawling through these huge datasets for signatures of technological civilizations, we hope to uncover evidence that our planet, among the hundreds of billions in our galaxy, is not the only where intelligent life has arisen.”
Meanwhile, a new bill in the House of Representatives related to NASA’s funding proposes $10 million a year to search for signs of life out there.
“NASA shall partner with the private sector and philanthropic organizations to the maximum extent practicable to search for technosignatures, such as radio transmissions, in order to meet the NASA objective to search for life’s origin, evolution, distribution and future in the universe,” according to the bill.
While the bill still has to clear the House and the Senate, if passed, it would mark the first time since 1992 that NASA has received federal funding for the search for extraterrestrial life, often referred to as SETI.
“This initiative — if passed by the Senate — could reinstate SETI into the NASA budget,” Seth Shostak, director of the SETI Institute, told IFLScience. “It’s always been incomprehensible to me that NASA funds all sorts of work to try and find life in the solar system and even biomarkers such as oxygen in the atmospheres of exoplanets and yet won’t put any money into looking for the most interesting kind of life — the intelligent variety.”