China's Cosmic Radio Telescope to Search for Alien Intelligence

China's colossal FAST telescope will join the global SETI community this September in a bid to answer the burning question of whether we're alone in the universe.
Chris Young

China will soon transfer much of the processing power of its Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) to looking for alien signals, according to a local news source.

The telescope — which officially activated in January — will begin looking for signs of life beyond Earth this September as part of China's contribution to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).


Scanning the skies for signs of alien intelligence

China state media outlet Science and Technology Daily broke the news that FAST will start scanning the skies for alien life in September amid extensive upgrades to reduce interference.

The huge telescope was completed in 2016 after five years of construction and has a 500-meter (1,640-foot) aperture. Notably, the telescope typically uses only one 300-meter (roughly 984-foot) section at a time to focus on the skies.

While the news will likely excite space and UFO enthusiasts, FAST chief scientist Zhang Tongjie stressed that the search will not interrupt the telescope's regular science missions.

FAST aims for aliens, but lives on science

Zhang says there are some “interesting narrowband candidate ET signals” that the SETI project will focus on with the help of FAST. However, he stresses that the candidate signals likely don't originate from intelligent life. On the search for alien intelligence, it's very unlikely that the project will produce tangible results in its first attempts.

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Distinctive radio signals have often been detected coming from distant parts of the universe. In fact, that is how pulsars were first discovered. Then there's the Fermi Paradox which states that, given the number of habitable planets predicted to exist in the Milky Way alone, we should have already detected signs of spacefaring civilizations in the vast possibilities of the cosmos.

Of course, there are still many mysteries to uncover in space. Aside from finding clues about the formation of the universe, China's Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope will focus on one of the most tantalizing of all: Whether or not we're alone in the universe.