China on Schedule With World’s Largest Radio Telescope to Search for Extraterrestrial Life

 

 

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"Having a more sensitive telescope, we can receive weaker and more distant radio messages," Wu Xiangping, director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society, said of the 500-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) nestled in a bowl-shaped valley between hills in the southwestern province of Guizhou "It will help us to search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy and explore the origins of the universe," he added underscoring the China's race to be the first nation to discover the existence of an advanced alien civilization.


FAST is the world's largest single-aperture telescope, overtaking the Arecibo Observatory in the US territory of Puerto Rico, which is 305 metres (1000 feet) in diameter. The dish will have a perimeter of about 1.6 kilometres, Xinhua said, and there are no towns within five kilometres, giving it ideal surroundings to listen for signals from space.

 

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According to chief scientist from China’s National Astronomical Observations, Li Di, FAST will be able to scan up to twice more areas of the sky than Arecibo shown above, and it will have between three to five times the sensitivity.  It’s in their hopes that if there is indeed alien life, this gargantuan will find it.

The region's karst topography — a landscape of porous rock fissured with deep crevasses and underground caves and streams — is ideal for draining rainwater and protecting the reflector. Unfortuately, citizens actually living in the area where the radio telescope will be built are being relocated. Some 2,000 families residing near the Pingtang and Luodian counties will be given $1,800 per individual for the forced relocation.

For years Chinese scientists have relied on "second hand" data collected by others in their research and the new telescope is expected to "greatly enhance" the country's capacity to observe outer space, Xinhua said. Beijing is accelerating its military-run multi-billion-dollar space exploration program, which it sees as a symbol of the country's progress. It has plans for a permanent orbiting station by 2020 and eventually to send a human to the moon.

The Chinese governmnet hopes that a more subtle benefit of the behemoth eye on the cosmos will intice some of the some of the brightest minds in science or astronomy studying abroad to return home to China. China is the leading nation in the world in the number of students it sends students abroad, especially for majors such as science or engineering.

Construction on the telescope started in March 2011 and is scheduled to finish this coming September, 2016.

The Daily Galaxy via AFP/Beijing

Image credit: Arecibo Observatory, with thanks to Serge Brunier

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