World's largest radio telescope begins operations
China's Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) began searching for space signals and extraterrestrial life as hundreds of astronomers and enthusiasts eagerly watched its launch. Chinese National Astronomical Observatories Associate Researcher Qian Lei said FAST's ultimate goal is to "discover the laws of the development of the universe." FAST will become fully operational in three years; it is currently in the intensive testing phase.
About the FAST
The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) is an enormous radio telescope built by China with a total cost of CNY 1.2 billion. The world's largest filled aperture radio telescope (single dish) is situated in China's Guizhou province. It was first proposed in 1993, but construction didn't begin until 2011 when 9,000-10,000 people living within a five-kilometer radius from the dish's location were relocated.
FAST can be remotely controlled from Beijing
FAST's design was based on the then-largest radio telescope, 300-meter wide Arecibo Observatory telescope at Puerto Rico. FAST can be remotely-controlled from Beijing, 2,000 kilometers away. It can look for clues to the universe's evolution and is ten times more sensitive than Germany's Effelsberg 100-meter radio telescope. FAST's chances of finding extraterrestrial life in space are 5-10 times higher than that of current equipment.
Global leader in space exploration
The FAST comprises of 4,450 triangular panels and can look into space better than any previous device. It is expected to be the global leader in space exploration at least for the next two decades. It is fine-tuned for major astronomical discoveries like quasars, pulsars, and microwave background radiation. FAST's ability to detect faint pulsars will increase the chances of detecting low-frequency gravitational waves.
Timeline of important events
In July 2007, China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) approved the FAST project. After relocating people near the construction site to create a radio-quiet area, the foundation for the construction was laid on 6 December 2008 In Mar'11, the construction of the radio telescope began. On 3 Jul'16, China completed the installation of the FAST, fitting the last of the 4,450 triangular panels.
Game-changer in the search for life in the universe
Douglas Vakoch, President - 'Messaging to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence' International, said: "FAST will look for signs of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations in the vicinity of other stars, seeking radio signals that stand out as unlike anything that the universe can create."
Stephen Hawking warns about contacting alien life
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported that FAST had received radio signals from a pulsar that was 1,351 light-years away from Earth. Qian Lei told official Chinese Xinhua news agency that FAST was brought online for trial observation when it received a set of data from the pulsar in Jul'16. Physicist, cosmologist Stephen Hawking recently warned against contacting alien life, days ahead of FAST's launch.
Responding to signals
Stephen Hawking's warning: "One day we might receive a signal from a planet like this, but we should be wary of answering back. Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn't turn out so well."