BERKELEY (CBS SF) – A Silicon Valley billionaire has joined forces with UC Berkeley’s SETI project, famed physicist Stephen Hawking and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to launch a 10-year, $100 million project to find life in outer space.

Russian-born investor Yuri Milner unveiled the project on Tuesday.

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Officials at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project – have already undertaken an early step in the effort, setting up shop in rural Appalachia at the Robert C. Byrd telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia.

“If we find E.T. it means the universe is teeming with life,” Dan Werthimer, SETI’s chief scientist told Rolling Stone Magazine. “But if we find we’re alone, then we’d really better take care of the precious life on this planet.”

The SETI project’s involvement – named Breakthrough Listen — is just one of the focuses of Milner’s effort. Another focus is an effort to establish the feasibility of sending a swarm of tiny spacecraft, each weighing far less than an ounce, to the Alpha Centauri star system.

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Powered by energy from a huge, Earth-based laser, the spacecraft would fly at about one-fifth the speed of light. Their target would be a planet with potential for holding life. No such planet has been discovered yet at Alpha Centauri, but experts say one may lurk there.

The spacecraft would take 20 years to reach the star system, where they would make observations and send back data.

According to Rolling Stone, the money allocated to the Breakthrough Listen effort will be spent for leasing dedicated observation time at radio telescopes in West Virginia and Australia and as at the optical telescope at the University of California’s Lick Observatory.

Funds will also be made available to recruit and hire young scientists to the project.

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