We are here.
Circling one star among hundreds of billions, in one galaxy among a hundred billion more, in a Universe that is vast and expanding ever faster – perhaps toward infinity. In the granular details of daily life, it’s easy to forget that we live in a place of astonishing grandeur and mystery.
The Breakthrough Initiatives are a suite of space science programs investigating the fundamental 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?
Where is everybody?
So wondered the great physicist Enrico Fermi. The Universe is ancient and immense. Life, he reasoned, has had plenty of time to get started – and get smart. But we see no evidence of anything alive or intelligent in space. In the last five years, we have discovered that planets in the habitable zone of stars are common. Based on the numbers discovered so far, there are estimated to be billions more in our galaxy alone. Yet we are still in the dark about life. Are we really alone? Or are there others out there?
It’s one of the biggest questions. And only science can answer it.
Breakthrough Listen is a $100 million program of astronomical observations and analysis, the most comprehensive ever undertaken in search of evidence of technological civilizations in the Universe. The partners with some of the world’s largest and most advanced telescopes, across five continents, to survey targets including one million nearby stars, the entire galactic plane and 100 nearby galaxies at a wide range of radio and optical frequency bands.
Part of the Breakthrough Initiatives, Listen was launched by Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking in 2015, and is funded by the foundation established by Yuri and Julia Milner.
Breakthrough Message is a $1 million competition to design a message representing Earth, life and humanity that could potentially be understood by another civilization. The aim is to encourage humanity to think together as one world, and to spark public debate about the ethics of sending messages beyond Earth.
Where can life flourish?
In August 2016, a potentially habitable Earth-like planet was discovered orbiting Proxima Centauri – the Sun’s nearest neighbor. Based on the most recent astronomical data, it is likely that there are other such planets in our cosmic neighborhood. With technology now or soon available, it will be possible not only to find them, but to analyze whether they have atmospheres – and whether those atmospheres contain oxygen and other potential signatures of primitive life.
Breakthrough Watch is a multi-million-dollar, Earth- and space-based astronomical program aiming to identify and characterize Earth-sized, rocky planets around Alpha Centauri and other stars within 20 light years of Earth, in search of oxygen and other potential signatures of primitive life. The program is run by an international team of experts in exoplanet detection and imaging.
Part of the Breakthrough Initiatives, Watch is funded by the foundation established by Yuri and Julia Milner.
Can we reach the stars?
Life in the Universe does not only mean extraterrestrials. It also means us. No other beings have yet visited us – but neither have we stepped out to the galactic stage. Are we destined to belong to Earth for as long as we survive? Or can we reach the stars?
If we can, the natural first step is our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri – four light years away.
Breakthrough Starshot is a $100 million research and engineering program aiming to demonstrate proof of concept for a new technology, enabling ultra-light uncrewed space flight at 20% of the speed of light; and to lay the foundations for a flyby mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation.
Part of the Breakthrough Initiatives, Starshot was launched by Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking in 2016, and is funded by the foundation established by Yuri and Julia Milner.
The Breakthrough Initiatives aim to explore the Universe, seek scientific evidence of life beyond Earth, and encourage public debate from a planetary perspective.