'No bigger question': Stephen Hawking launches $100-million hunt for alien life

Professor Stephen Hawking speaks at a media event to launch a global science initiative at The Royal Society in London, Britain, on July 20, 2015.Reuters

The concept of extra-terrestrial life has long fascinated mankind, and has tickled our imagination for quite some time now, as evidenced by movies and other works of fiction featuring aliens.

On Monday, this fascination for alien life reached new heights, and a higher price tag, when world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announced a $100-million undertaking to actively search for proof of alien life.

"In an infinite universe, there must be other life. There is no bigger question. It is time to commit to finding the answer," Hawking said during the launch of the decadal project, called "Breakthrough Listen" at the London's Royal Society.

How exactly will this comprehensive effort to look for alien life go? Radio telescopes at Lick Observatory's optical telescope in San Jose, California, Green Bank in West Virginia, and the Parkes Observatory in Australia will be used for the daunting task of scanning around one million stars in the Milky Way.

Andrew Siemion, one of the project's leaders, explained that these telescopes are the best ones for the alien hunt.

"We would typically get 24–36 hours on a telescope per year, but now we'll have thousands of hours per year on the best instruments," Siemion, a scientist from the University of California, Berkeley, explained.

Milner, Hawking and the rest of the team behind the "Breakthrough Listen" project will also release a letter asking for support for the intensified search for extra-terrestrial life.

"It's difficult to overstate how big this is. It's a revolution," Siemion said.

Frank Drake, also part of the "Breakthrough Listen" effort, admitted that the millions of dollars to be poured by Milner on the project will definitely boost the hunt for alien life.

"In recent years, the total worldwide support for search for extra-terrestrial intelligence was about half a million dollars, mostly in the United States, and all from private gifts. Now, we're getting $100 million, so that's real progress," Drake said.