Stephen Hawking, Yuri Milner back $100M search for alien life

Stephen Hawking (Photo by John Phillips/Getty).
Stephen Hawking attends the EE British Academy Film Awards at The Royal Opera House on Feb. 8, 2015 in London, England. 

Stephen Hawking spoke Monday in support of a new $100 million effort funded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner to search for alien life.

"We believe that life arose spontaneously on Earth, so in an infinite universe there must be other occurrences of life," Hawking told a crowd at the Royal Society in London.

The 10-year project, called the "Breakthrough Initiatives," will utilize two powerful telescopes -- the Parkes Telescope in Australia and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia -- that will scan 10 times the amount of sky covered by previous efforts. That includes a survey of the million stars closest to Earth and the search for signals from the 100 closest galaxies.

If an alien civilization near one of the 1,000 closest stars broadcasts a signal with the "power of common aircraft radar," the telescopes will detect it, the organization said.

"It is sure to bear fruit," Hawking said. "Experimental astronomy is always worthwhile. If a search of this scale and sophistication finds no evidence of intelligence out there, that is a very interesting result."

The Breakthrough Initiatives also includes $1 million in prize money for the person or team that creates the best message to "represent humanity and planet Earth."

"Mankind has a deep need to learn, to explore, to know," Hawking said. "It is important for us to know if we are alone in the dark."

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