In August 1924, the US government declared a "National Radio Silence Day" to detect extraterrestrial signals. Civilians were asked to keep radio silence for five minutes on the hour, every hour, for 36 hours. The US Naval Observatory lifted a radio receiver three kilometers off the ground to detect Martian signals; they even had a cryptographer on hand to translate messages. Unfortunately, there was only silence, but as technology improves, so do our chances of finding life out there.
Scanning the airwaves for messages could put us in contact with other intelligent life, but what is the likelihood that any life is out there? New research led by astronomy PhD student Erik Petigura suggests it's more likely than previously thought. Petigura used NASA's Kepler telescope to look for Earth-like planets. Kepler, an observatory launched into space in 2009, was designed to survey the Milky Way for exoplanets. Without interference from the Earth's gravitational pull, ambient light, and the various celestial figures that can get in the way of measurements (like the Sun and the Moon), Kepler has a much better view of the cosmos than any Earth-bound telescope.
Early on the morning of Dec. 19, 2013, the pre-dawn sky above the coastal town of Kourou in French Guiana was briefly sliced by the brilliant exhaust of a Soyuz VS06 rocket as it ferried ESA's "billion-star surveyor" Gaia into space, on its way to begin a five-year mission to map the precise locations of our galaxy's stars. From its position in orbit around L2 Gaia will ultimately catalog the positions of over a billion stars… and in the meantime it will also locate a surprising amount of Jupiter-sized exoplanets – an estimated 21,000 by the end of its primary mission in 2019.