Millions of stars to be scanned in search for ET

They will eavesdrop on millions of stars
They will eavesdrop on millions of stars

Radio astronomers have started scanning millions of stars in the biggest hunt yet for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

Scientists from the Breakthrough Listen project will spend more than two months searching for signals transmitted by alien civilisations across our galaxy, the Milky Way.

Phone home

Phone home

Using a powerful multibeam receiver, they will eavesdrop on millions of stars, not merely a chosen handful within a few light years of Earth.

The receiver fitted to the Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales, Australia, can "listen" in 13 directions at once.

Each beam allows more than 100 million radio channels to be scanned, generating up to 130 gigabits of data per second - thousands of times the bandwidth of a fast home internet connection.

As well as scouring the galactic plane, the telescope will also point towards the Milky Way's centre, which is densely packed with stars surrounding a supermassive black hole.

Project scientist Dr Danny Price, from the University of California at Berkeley, said: "With these new capabilities we are scanning our galaxy in unprecedented detail.

"By trawling through these huge datasets for signatures of technological civilisations, we hope to uncover evidence that our planet, among the hundreds of billions in our galaxy, is not the only one where intelligent life has arisen."

Breakthrough Listen was launched in London in 2015 by Russian technology tycoon and billionaire Yuri Milner.

He was supported by celebrity cosmologist Professor Stephen Hawking, who died in March.

Listen is one of a number of Breakthrough initiatives costing a total of 100 million US dollars (£74 million).

They also include Breakthrough Starshot, a bold plan to send a swarm of tiny laser-driven spacecraft to Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to Earth.