China has just unveiled what is now the largest radio telecommunication telescope in the world. The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, or FAST for short has beaten the previous record held by the famous Arecibo Observatory located in Puerto Rico.
The radio telescope started to operate on Sunday. Beijing claims the project will help mankind have a better chance at finding, and possibly communicating with alien life.
FAST cost the Chinese government around 1.2 billion yuan, or the equivalent $180 million. The dish is made up of nearly 5.000 different panels. The single-dish telescope itself is twice as sensitive as the one at the Arecibo Observatory. And all of that power goes into finding signs of intelligent life in outer space. It’s also going to use that highly sensitive dish to collect data on pulsars. Pulsars are neutron stars that spin very quickly. They are leftovers from supernova explosions.
China has recently started investing in a lot in science and education. This new project is part of a much larger plan to shift the Chinese economy from industry to knowledge and information. The unveiling of this gigantic radio telescope marks a new step towards achieving that goal.
According to the head of China’s National Astronomical Observation (NAO), Yan Jun, China is working on several other projects involving large telescopes. These project will be launched in the following decades.
During a test run, the enormous radio telescope was able to detect the electromagnetic waves of a pulsar that is1.300 light-years away, according to NAO. The director of the Chinese Astronomical Society claimed that the radio telescope is so sensitive it could detect signs of alien life outside our own galaxy.
FAST Radio Telescope Could Help Us Reach Alien Life
People have dreamed of making contact with alien lifeforms for centuries, and during the past 60 years it’s started to make steps towards fulfilling that dream. Radio telescopes have gotten bigger, and more sensitive, bringing us that much closer to communicating with an alien intelligence.
In August, Russia detected a strong signal that raised everyone’s hopes that we would finally meet an extraterrestrial being. At first, scientists were unsure what he origins of the signal could be. But they now have strong evidence it probably came from a former Soviet satellite lost in space.
The president of METI, Douglas Vakoch said the telescope could “lead to discoveries beyond our wildest imagination”. METI is an organization that focuses on sending messages in space, in the hopes of contacting alien life.
Alien life notwithstanding, this radio telescope truly is an engineering masterpiece. With its size and capabilities, even if it’s not going to put us in contact with an alien lifeform, it can still help us uncover some of the secrets of the universe. And that’s pretty impressive in and of itself.
Chinese engineers built the telescope in a relatively poor area. Authorities chose this location because there are no large cities nearby. The people living in the area had to relocate. However, the Chinese government will compensate them. Officials can either pay them in cash, or provide new housing. The total budget the government allocated for this process is 1.8 billion yuan, or $270 million. Which is nearly 300 times more than the total cost of the radio telescope itself.
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