China Flips “ON” Search for Alien Life With Earth’s Most Powerful Radio Telescope this Week

 

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"China's latest telescope will be able to look faster and further than past searches for extraterrestrial intelligence," says Douglas Vakoch, president of METI International, an organization dedicated to detecting alien intelligence.


The world's largest telescope set in the mountainous landscape of southwest China will be completed this week
with a huge 1,640 feet (500 meter) wide dish the size of 30 football fields, the the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, starts operation September 25. The massive ear will able to detect radio signals — and potentially signs of life — from distant planets.

"FAST's potential to discover an alien civilization will be five to 10 times that of current equipment, as it can see farther and darker planets," Peng Bo, director of the NAO Radio Astronomy Technology Laboratory, told Xinhua.

FAST has a field of vision is almost twice as big as the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico that has been the world's biggest single aperture telescope for the past 53 years. Russia's RATAN-600 telescope is larger than FAST by diameter with panels arranged in a 576 meter wide ring — but it's not one single dish and its collection area is much smaller than FAST and Arecibo (below, with thanks to Serge Brunier)

 

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Construction of the $185 million mega project began in 2011, with the last of the 4,450 triangular panels that form the dish painstakingly lowered into place in July this year. "You can control the surface to point at certain points in the sky. A mesh of steel ropes allows a hydraulic push and pull mechanism," says Andreas Wicenec, professor of Data Intensive Research at the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research in Australia.

The telescope is expected to shed light on the origins of the universe by mapping the distribution of hydrogen, the most abundant element in our galaxy and beyond. "Because of FAST's incredible sensitivity, it will be able to chart the hydrogen distribution even in far flung galaxies," says Vakoch.

FAST will also enable scientists to detect many more pulsars — dense, rotating stars that act as cosmic clocks. This could provide scientists with the capability to detect gravitational waves — ripples in space-time — that shed light on how galaxies evolved.

"FAST may help explain the origin of the universe and the structure of the cosmos, but it won't provide warning of Earth-bound asteroids that could destroy human civilization," says Vakoch.

Chinese astronomers are expected to receive priority on the telescope for the two to three years and then it will be opened to scientists worldwide.

The Daily Galaxy via CNN, Meti.org, and Xinhua 

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