China just turned on FAST, the world’s largest radio telescope, and our best weapon in the hunt for alien life.
Nestled in a rural, basin region in China’s Guizhou Province, the record-breaking telescope — the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope — has made China a leader in the hunt for alien life. The “Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope”, or FAST, is a 1,640 feet scientific marvel that nearly doubles the capabilities of its nearest radio telescopic rival, Puerto Rico’s Arecibo.
Boasting over 4,500 individual panels, the $180 million project is roughly the size of 30 soccer fields. Researcher Peng Bo from China’s National Astronomical Observatories told Xinhua, China’s official press agency, that “FAST’s potential to discover an alien civilization will be five to 10 times that of current equipment, as it can see farther in darker planets.” FAST’s size gives the telescope a significant advantage, boasting a field of vision twice that of Arecibo Observatory and 10 times more sensitive than the Effelsberg 100-meter Radio Telescope in Germany.
As the search for extraterrestrial life has intensified within the scientific community, China currently stands with a huge advantage thanks to its multi-million dollar investment.
The construction of FAST began in 2011 after several years of feasibility studies. The decision to build FAST in a mountainous region in the southwest China forced over 9,110 Chinese citizens to relocate from their homes. Li Yuecheng, a senior Communist party official explained that this was so scientists could “create a sound electromagnetic wave environment.” However, the technology needed for any serious interference with FAST would require the villagers to be constantly using sophisticated electronic equipment, an unlikely proposition for the mostly rural villagers in the region.
FAST is the latest in several projects China is spearheading to become a leader in space sciences. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s decision to make space exploration a priority for the nation has fast-tracked plans for China to construct a space station and land a man on the moon, all within the next 20 years.
With FAST finally operating, China has become the de facto leader in deep space radio technology for at least the next 10 to 20 years.