DST Global-Ola Deal
Russian entrepreneur and venture capitalist Yuri Milner in November 2014. Reuters

Russian billionaire Yuri Milner has pledged $100m of his own money to help establish a search for alien life deep into the universe.

The internet mogul has gifted the massive sum in instalments over the next decade to two projects - one called the Breakthrough Listen in which two high power telescopes will be pointed at various spots in the universe which have been touted as possible hotspots for alien activity. The telescopes will be able to detect radio signals from huge distances, which will give them an understanding about where extra-terrestrial life may be.

The telescopes in question will be the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, USA, and the Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia. Both of which will listen for messages from the 100 nearest galaxies, with effort being put in from the experts and some nine million volunteers from around the world.

The project was announced via a live webcast the The Royal Society, along with other panel members including Professor Stephen Hawking and Astronomer Royal Lord Rees.

Hawking said: "Somewhere in the cosmos, perhaps, intelligent life may be watching these lights of ours, aware of what they mean.

"Or do our lights wander a lifeless cosmos - unseen beacons, announcing that here, on one rock, the Universe discovered its existence. Either way, there is no bigger question. It's time to commit to finding the answer - to search for life beyond Earth.

"We are alive. We are intelligent. We must know."

Milner added: "With Breakthrough Listen, we're committed to bringing the Silicon Valley approach to the search for intelligent life in the Universe.

"Our approach to data will be open and taking advantage of the problem-solving power of social networks."

The other initiative – Breakthrough Message – is a competition to create "digital messages that represent humanity and planet Earth." The messages will not be broadcast into space but is rather to encourage a debate on how we should communicate with other beings – if they are out there.