The European Southern Observatory will search for habitable planets around Alpha Centauri – the closest star outside our Solar System – using its Very Large Telescope.
It will be fitted with new technology so it can see planets hidden by the glare of nearby suns.
Experts believe Alpha Centaur may be disguising planets which could habitable to human and alien life.
The ESO is also working with Breakthrough Starshot – a pioneering scheme to send a spaceship to visit the Alpha Centauri system.
“Detecting a habitable planet is an enormous challenge”
Spokesman for the European Southern Observatory
Speaking at Initatives’ launch, Mr Hawking said : “We are preparing for the next great leap.
“Earth is a wonderful place, but it might not last forever.”
The physicist once said gazing up at the stars had caused him to question whether there was “someone up there looking back”.
He has also warned alien life from could be “dangerous” and “unpredictable”.
Confirming the partnership with Breakthrough Starshot, a spokesman for ESO said the group would also be upgrading their Extremely Large Telescope too.
The spokesman added: “Detecting and studying potentially habitable planets orbiting other stars will be one of the main scientific goals of the upcoming European Extremely Large Telescope.
“Detecting a habitable planet is an enormous challenge due to the brightness of the planetary system’s host star.
“[The star] tends to overwhelm the relatively dim planets.”
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