As one of Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Initiatives, the multi-million-dollar Breakthrough Listen program is searching for radio signals that could prove aliens exist. Thanks to a new collaboration, Listen will spend the next two years harnessing the power of MeerKAT, a South African super-telescope, to further the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Yuri Milner's Collaboration With the MeerKAT Observatory: Searching Over One Million Stars for Technosignatures

The philanthropist behind this program is Yuri Milner, a Giving Pledge signatory and author of Eureka Manifesto, a book about humanity’s mission to explore the Universe.

What Are the Breakthrough Initiatives?

If advanced alien civilizations are out there, they’ve remained silent. Or, considering the vastness of the Universe, we may not have detected them yet.

By scanning the cosmos for potential alien technosignatures (which suggest signs of intelligent life), Breakthrough Listen hopes to answer one of humanity’s most profound questions — are we alone in the Universe?

The astronomical program is one of five Breakthrough Initiatives funded and co-founded by Yuri Milner and his wife Julia as a legacy of their Giving Pledge.

The Milners signed the Giving Pledge in 2012 (established by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates) and committed to donating at least half of their wealth to philanthropic projects that support scientists and scientific discoveries.

By funding the Breakthrough Initiatives through their Breakthrough Foundation, the couple continues to satisfy their Giving Pledge commitment to science.

The five Breakthrough Initiatives are:

  1. Breakthrough Listen — the biggest-ever scientific research program to search for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations.
  2. Breakthrough Watch — a program examining our closest planets for evidence of alien life.
  3. Breakthrough Starshot — an open-access research program hoping to develop a space probe capable of reaching Alpha Centauri.
  4. Breakthrough Message — a $1 million competition encouraging the public to develop a message from humanity to an alien civilization.
  5. Breakthrough Discuss — an annual conference for scholars and academics to further discussions on topics like space exploration and extraterrestrial life.

Eureka Manifesto: Reaching for the Stars

Anyone interested in the work of the Breakthrough Initiatives may wish to read Yuri Milner’s Eureka Manifesto. The short book details the philanthropist’s perspective on “humanity’s place in the Universe and our role in its future.”

At its core, Eureka Manifesto is a compelling argument for why Earth’s citizens should unite behind a common cause. If we can’t find a shared goal here on Earth, Yuri Milner suggests we might find our goal further afield, among the stars.

How to Listen and MeerKAT Are Helping SETI

After three years of developing a new, cutting-edge supercomputer, Breakthrough Listen is working with the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory’s (SARAO) MeerKAT telescope. The largest telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, MeerKAT will allow Listen to search over one million stars in just two years.

MeerKAT’s 64 antenna array makes this feat possible. Each dish can target a particular cosmic object while collectively providing a wide field of view. This expansive view will enable Listen to search an unprecedented number of stars (the most likely sources for a techno signature) while eliminating interfering, human-made signals.

“MeerKAT has a remarkable combination of sensitivity and survey speed, which makes it a wonderful telescope for SETI,” Dr. Fernando Camilo, chief scientist for SARAO, commented.

“The telescope was planned and developed here in South Africa, and it’s fascinating that young South Africans will have the chance to be involved at the forefront of the search for life beyond Earth.”