Lagoon Nebula
If there is life out there, Breakthrough Listen is looking for it- Representational image NASA ESA and STScI

Stephen Hawking spearheaded a project called Breakthrough Listen (BL) with the sole intention of looking for intelligent alien life in the cosmos. The project, valued at about $100 million, got a major boost forward this week with Australia's Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales joining the hunt for life outside Earth.

Over the next 60 days, Parkes will scan the entirety of the Milky Way's galactic plane, notes a report by Breakthrough Listen will have the opportunity to scan large swathes of the galaxy which they hope will improve their chances of finding signals, if there are any, out in the Milky Way.

Parkes is operated by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and a recent upgrade to its systems has given it a "multibeam receiver" which makes use of 13 individual beams to observe the sky, reports Breakthrough Listen. "With these new capabilities we are scanning our galaxy in unprecedented detail," said Parkes project scientist Danny Price of University of California, Berkeley.

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

Breakthrough Listen was first started in 2016, notes by Israeli-Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner and astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. The idea was to find alien life using instruments like the Parkes radio telescope and survey the Milky Way. If there is intelligent life with technology out there and they are sending out signals like humans do, then it might be possible to confirm, if not contact other life forms in the universe.

The Parkes will look for what BL calls "signals of interest", which are signals that are not made on Earth or originate here. Rather, they are radio signals that are extraterrestrial, notes the report. Parkes now has the ability to listen for such signals at a whopping 130 gigabits per second. Also, the new Parkes upgrades will allow scientists to easily filter out human-made noise like mobile phone, radio, and other such interference from aircraft and listen only for signals of interest.

Over the course of 60 days Parkes will spend 1,500 hours scanning the skies looking for Fast Radio Bursts (FRB). These FRBs are confirmed to be extragalactic, notes the report, and they travel unbelievable distances. The closest FRB ever detected came from about 1.6 billion light years away. To travel such distances, they need to originate from sources that have enormously powerful magnetic fields and this makes them an interesting phenomenon. However, there is no real proof that they are from aliens, says the BL.