Stephen Hawking may often be described as the most intelligent person alive today, and until recently, the astrophysicist warned about contact with alien beings. Now, however, Hawking has joined other researchers on expanding the search for extraterrestrial life. 

Hawking has popularized the dangers of extraterrestrial contact since 2010. His theory is that alien civilizations able to contact humans could be so advanced, they may have little to no remorse over wiping us out, comparing it to a person stepping on an ant hill. 

"A civilization reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead of us. If so, they will be vastly more powerful, and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria," Hawking told attendees at the Breakthrough convention.

The famed astrophysicist has also noted that our own species has a terrible history when it comes to technologically-superior civilizations making contact with more "primitive" people. 

Breakthrough Listen is a new program designers claim will be the most powerful search for extraterrestrial life ever conducted. Announcement of the new program to find alien species was made by the 73-year-old physicist among other scientific dignitaries. The program will listen in on signals coming from outer space, searching for signs of intelligent life. 

Breakthrough Message is a cooperative plan to Listen, designed to send signals out to space, engineered to be recognized and interpreted by an alien race regardless of their language or customs. The Breakthrough Initiative leaders are gathering public input, suggesting content for the greetings from our world to an alien civilization. 

"The message must be in digital format, and should be representative of humanity and planet Earth ... The competition is open to everyone. Developing a message that could both speak for us and be understood by alien intelligences is a hard problem. It may require insight in fields from mathematics and physics to linguistics, psychology and art," Breakthrough Initiatives reported on its website.

Currently, the group has no plans to actually send the message to space. The organization is currently working to understand more about what such a greeting to an alien civilization should encompass. Such a message would only be beamed to candidate star systems after significant discussion about the benefits and risks of contacting other worlds would take place, the group pledges. 

Breakthrough Listen will scan an area of sky 10 times larger than any previous search for extraterrestrial life, with equipment 50 times more sensitive than before. 

The programs, now fueled by $100 million in funding, could revitalize the search for intelligent civilizations beyond the surface of the Earth. It seems even Stephen Hawking has decided finding extraterrestrial life is so important to the future of humanity, it trumps potential dangers to our race. 

Photo: JD Hancock | Flickr

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