Breakthrough Listen represents humanity's most significant effort to date to quantify the distribution of advanced life in the Universe, using a global network of the world's largest and most advanced radio telescopes to search for signatures of technology. The project is undertaking a detailed census of hundreds of nearby stars, in addition to casting a wider net across millions more stars, the entire plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, and additional galaxies beyond. 

Since 2023, Breakthrough Listen has been headquartered in the Department of Physics at the University of Oxford, under the leadership of Principal Investigator Dr Andrew Siemion. Listen's interdisciplinary research has synergies with many of the department's research priorities, including exoplanet studies, machine learning, cutting-edge radio instrumentation and digital signal processing, citizen science, sky surveys, and studies of transient and variable objects. Listen is deeply involved with the department's educational mission, including through the supervision of undergraduate and graduate student researchers.

Breakthrough Listen facilities include the Green Bank Telescope (the largest steerable radio telescope in the world), the 64-metre Parkes dish in Australia, and the South African MeerKAT array. Listen is also partnering with the Jodrell Bank Observatory, home to the 76-metre Lovell Telescope, and China's FAST telescope, the world's largest single dish. Partnerships are also established with Cherenkov telescopes (arrays of large optical detectors) such as VERITAS, as well as the Murchison Widefield Array, which, along with MeerKAT, is a precursor instrument for the international Square Kilometre Array.

Breakthrough Listen will also use data from the Vera Rubin Observatory in Northern Chile (expected to be operational in 2025). This uses a 3200 megapixel camera, co-developed with Oxford’s Department of Physics, to image the entire visible sky as seen from Cerro Pachon, Chile, every 3-4 nights, and is predicted to help discover about 20 billion galaxies and a similar number of stars, as well as tracking moving and variable objects and discovering new kinds of astrophysical anomalies. 

The Listen instruments at the Green Bank and Parkes telescopes process hundreds of gigabits per second of data. The system on the MeerKAT array processes nearly five terabits per second. The Listen team has developed innovative computer and artificial intelligence (AI) systems to digitise billions of radio channels at the same time, across a wide swathe of the radio spectrum, and search them for candidate signals. The cutting-edge instrumentation and techniques developed for Listen are also making their mark in other areas of astronomy research. The Listen science team recently used data from Green Bank to reveal fascinating insights into powerful and mysterious 'fast radio bursts' from the distant Universe.

Breakthrough Listen is committed to open science, with vast amounts of data accessible to scientists worldwide. Some of the greatest discoveries in astronomy have come from re-analysis of archival data, often by independent scientists. Public data also enables involvement from non-astronomers with technical expertise, such as experts in deep learning, signal processing, and big data analytics. One of Listen’s major challenges is to sift through the haystack of interference from human technology to find the needle that might be a candidate for our first message from an alien civilisation.

Our published papers include the analysis of signals of interest, the discovery of new astronomical objects (including 72 Fast Radio Bursts from a rare repeating emitter), and a first-of-its-kind “Exotica” list comprehensively cataloguing objects of astronomical interest.