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Today's Colloquium: The Breakthrough Listen Initiative: Our Boldest Effort to Answer Our Oldest Question

Submitter: Andrew Siemion
Description: Andrew Siemion is today's Colloquium speaker. Andrew's presentation will round off this week's Dutch National SETI meeting. The topic is likely to be of wide interest to ASTRON & JIVE staff.

Abstract: Nearly 14 billion years ago, our universe was born in a spectacular and dynamic event known as the "big bang". After several hundred million years, the first stars lit up the cosmos, and many hundreds of millions of years later, the remnants of countless stellar explosions coalesced into the first planetary systems. Somehow, through a process still not understood, the laws of physics guiding the unfolding of our universe gave rise to self-replicating organisms - life. Yet more perplexing, this life eventually evolved a capacity to know its universe, to study it, and to question its own existence. Did this happen many times? If it did, how? If it didn't, why not?

For millennia, humanity has pondered their place in the cosmos and asked the question "Are we alone?". For the first time in our history, the answer may be within our grasp. Astronomers have recently determined that the key environmental factors that are believed to have given rise to life on Earth are present in abundance throughout the Milky Way galaxy. Long lived stars, planets, water and complex organic molecules are now known to be ubiquitous. Armed with the certainty that life could have developed elsewhere, scientists everywhere are racing to determine if indeed it did, and if so, whether some of that life went on to develop a technological capability similar to our own. In July 2015, Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking announced Breakthrough Listen - a 10-year 100-million-dollar search for extraterrestrial intelligence. This program will be the most sensitive, intensive and comprehensive search for intelligent life beyond the Earth in the history of humanity.

I will discuss the scientific rationale behind the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and some of the recent discoveries in astrophysics that are informing and spurring the search. I will also review the Breakthrough Listen Initiative, including the current observational status, early results and plans for the future.
Copyright: Andrew Siemion
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