Russian Internet entrepreneur Yuri Milner and physicist Stephen Hawking have partnered to launch a $100m initiative to search for extraterrestrial life in the universe.

Called Breakthrough Initiatives, the venture will scan signals from one million closest stars, galactic planes of the Milky Way, and messages from the 100 closest galaxies to Earth.

Astronomers will focus on two aspects, Breakthrough Listen and Breakthrough Message.

Milner said: "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."

Breakthrough Listen is said to be the largest-of-its-kind scientific search ever conducted for intelligent life beyond Earth. It will cover ten times more of the sky, and will be 50 times more sensitive compared to previous programmes."

"There is no bigger question. It’s time to commit to finding the answer, to search for life beyond Earth."

The ten-year initiative will leverage the world’s most powerful telescopes, the Robert C Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, US, and the Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia.

In parallel, the Automated Planet Finder Telescope at the Lick Observatory in California will perform its deepest and broadest search for optical laser transmissions.

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

"Either way, there is no bigger question. It’s time to commit to finding the answer, to search for life beyond Earth."

For the Breakthrough Message initiative, an international competition will be held to create digital messages that represent humanity and planet earth. Further details of the competition will be announced at a later date.

Nasa Voyager interstellar message creative director Ann Druyan said: "The Breakthrough Message competition is designed to spark the imaginations of millions, and to generate conversation about who we really are in the universe and what it is that we wish to share about the nature of being alive on Earth.

"Even if we don’t send a single message, the act of conceptualising one can be transformative."