National Geographic

The 6th annual ‘Breakthrough Prize’ honor top achievements in the fields of physics, life sciences and mathematics, with a star-studded ceremony that took place yesterday at the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. Hosted by Academy Award®-winning actor Morgan Freeman, it also features among others, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ron Howard, actress Mila Kunis, actor and investor Ashton Kutcher, and actress and producer Kerry Washington, serving as presenters.

The Nobels may be more prestigious than the Breakthroughs, but they come with a lot less money. The Breakthrough Prize Foundation is funded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, who is examining the feasibility of a private mission to a moon of Saturn and who is also founding several other Breakthrough Initiatives.

These Breakthrough Initiatives are programs of scientific and technological exploration. Breakthrough Listen, the largest ever scientific research program aimed at finding evidence of civilizations beyond Earth. Breakthrough Watch, that aims to identify and characterize Earth-sized, rocky planets around Alpha Centauri and other stars within 20 light years of Earth, in search of oxygen and other “biosignatures.” Breakthrough Starshot, that aims to demonstrate proof of concept for ultra-fast light-driven nano crafts, and lay the foundations for a first launch to Alpha Centauri within the next generation. Breakthrough Message, that aims to encourage debate about how and what to communicate with possible intelligent beings beyond earth. It takes the form of an international competition to create messages that could be read by an advanced civilization.