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Russian internet entrepreneur Yuri Milner has given SETI $100 million for a ten year project to accelerate their effort to search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.
Understanding why SETI needs private funding is important:
SETI has been going on since 1960, when radio telescopes became sensitive enough to detect signals from another planet if it was broadcasting signals similar to those which our civilization does. Researchers developed devices that could monitor millions of frequencies at once for any signal that looked at all different from that produced by astronomical objects or the natural background. At first funded by universities and NASA, public funding for SETI was axed by Congress in the early 1990s. Since then, the nonprofit SETI League has received funding of a few million dollars a year from private donors.
Congress correctly cut the funds because it isn’t really the business of the federal government to search for alien life. Some taxpayers really don’t want their money used for that purpose, and they should have the right to say no. Instead, Congress essentially told SETI to do it right: Get private funding from people who want the research done. The work will be done more efficiently for less, and no one will be required to contribute who doesn’t want to.
Milner’s contribution now is the biggest donation yet, and suggests that interest in this research is building culturally.