Yes, their huge new telescope is partly designed to find ETs!
It seems like the U.S. locks horns with China over so many things these days, like whether they should own most of the South China Sea or whether their military is hacking computer networks at U.S. companies. So it’s great to see the two nations do have things in common — like desire to discover alien life! On Sept. 25, China officially opened the 500-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), which finished construction in July in Guizhou Province, some 1,240 miles southwest of Beijing. At 1,650 feet (or 30 football fields wide), it is by far the largest radio telescope ever constructed, dwarfing the 1,000-foot Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
(America’s creatively named Very Large Array in New Mexico covers more area, but is made up of smaller dishes.)
Scientists hope FAST’s giant eye will allow it to collect data about the early universe and detect faint pulsars and interstellar molecules. It should also be able to detect low-frequency gravitational waves, which can be generated by the collision of interstellar bodies like black holes. U.S. scientists recently became the first to detect these ripples in space-time, which were theorized by Albert Einstein.
Nobel-Prize-winning astronomer Joseph Taylor, who won a Nobel Prize for indirectly proving the existence of gravitational waves in 1993, told Xinhua News Agency the telescope “ will certainly generate enthusiasm, bring people into science, and make China important in the world of science.”
FAST has already made discoveries. In a trial run, it detected transmissions from a pulsar, a kind of rotating neutron star that’s a useful navigational beacon for astronomers. Sun Caihong, FAST’s Deputy Chief Technologist, told Xinhua he expects the telescope to locate twice as many pulsars as are currently known.
All that’s great. But what’s really cool is that the scientists behind the $180 million project have also specifically said they want to use FAST to hunt for signals from extraterrestrial life, too.
“FAST’s potential to discover an alien civilization will be 5 to 10 times that of current equipment, as it can see farther and darker planets.” — Peng Bo, Director of NAO Radio Astronomy Tech Lab
The telescope should be of great value to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), an international coalition of scientists who seek out new life and new civilizations.
On a slightly more sinister note, given the Chinese government’s predilection for surveillance, engineers say it’s sensitive enough to capture the signal of a cell phone being used on the moon! But that’s a worry for another day.