Stephen Hawking Endorses Massive Hunt for Alien Life

Radio Telescopes
Image Credit: Ben Wicks

In 2010, Stephen Hawking caused a stir by asserting that while he believes alien life exists in the universe, any advanced alien civilization that we might encounter would likely not be interested in making peace with human life, but would rather seek to destroy us much like the alien races often depicted in science fiction movies. As the renowned physicist commented at the time during an episode of the TV show “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking”:

“Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they could reach. If so, it makes sense for them to exploit each new planet for material to build more spaceships so they could move on. Who knows what the limits would be?”

The English theoretical physicist appears to have based his assertion on the historical experiences of Earth cultures who have often been mistreated and even wiped out after being confronted by a more technologically advanced civilization. Nevertheless, Hawking’s desire to discover whether intelligent life exists elsewhere in the cosmos evidently trumps his concerns over their ultimate intentions as earlier this year he pledged his support for a project whose aim is to locate and make contact with alien life.

In fact, Stephen Hawking has wholeheartedly endorsed what is known as Breakthrough Listen, a project which cost $100 million to launch back in July 2015, and is recognized as the most widespread initiative ever undertaken to search for extraterrestrial life. Intended to operate for 10 years, the Breakthrough Listen initiative will use two of the most powerful telescopes on Earth to scan 10 times more sky than past search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) programs, whilst scanning five times more effectively, and 100 times faster.

Utilizing the 100-meter Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, and the 64-meter Parkes Telescope in Australia, Breakthrough Listen will search for tell tale communication signs, such as radio waves and laser transmissions, that could potentially indicate the presence of alien life. The program will complete a full scan of the million stars nearest to Earth, and will also scan 100 of our closest galaxies, going deeper into space than any other project of its kind. Hawking and his colleagues feel confident that if there is life out there, a scan as powerful and thorough as this one will find it.

It’s important to note that while endorsing the Breakthrough Listen Project, Stephen Hawking did refer to his previous fears concerning extraterrestrial civilizations, and stated that any alien life hearing our messages could be billions of years more advanced than ourselves, and regard us as little more evolved or valuable than bacteria.

For now we’ll all have to keep an ear out for word from the Breakthrough Listen Project to find out if there’s any life out there. If so, let’s hope that Hawking was at least wrong about the hostile part. Nevertheless, Hawking’s view on the subject has been known for years, and back in 2012 Jill Tarter, former director of the Center for SETI, struck an altogether more optimistic note when she said:

“While Sir Stephen Hawking warned that alien life might try to conquer or colonize Earth, I respectfully disagree. If aliens were to come here, it would be simply to explore. Considering the age of the universe, we probably wouldn’t be their first extraterrestrial encounter, either. If aliens were able to visit Earth, that would mean they would have technological capabilities sophisticated enough not to need slaves, food or other planets.”

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