First signs of alien life? China's FAST telescope may have detected something

The state-backed Science and Technology Daily deleted the report of the news shortly after publishing it.
Loukia Papadopoulos
China's FAST telescope Xinhua / Ou Dongqu

In June of 2020, we reported how China would soon transfer much of the processing power of its Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) to looking for an alien signal. Now it seems the telescope may have found... something as part of China's contribution to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).

A report by the state-backed Science and Technology Daily, which was recently deleted, stated that its giant Sky Eye telescope may have picked up hints of alien civilizations. The report quoted Zhang Tonjie, chief scientist of an extraterrestrial civilization search team co-founded by Beijing Normal University, the National Astronomical Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the University of California, Berkeley. 

No one knows why the report was deleted, but it was online long enough for other news sources to pick it up. 

Scanning the skies for alien life

Back in September of 2020, it was the same state media outlet that broke the news that FAST would start scanning the skies for alien life amid extensive upgrades to reduce interference. So it only seems natural that the outlet would report any new activities. 

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

In the now-deleted report, Zhang said his team observed two sets of suspicious signals in 2020 while examining data collected in 2019 and found another suspicious signal in 2022 from data acquired from exoplanets. 

In 2020, Zhang revealed that his team would focus on some “interesting narrowband candidate ET signals” that the SETI project would further examine with the help of FAST. However, he did specify at the time that the candidate signals likely didn't originate from intelligent life.

Unsuccessful first attempts 

He further advised that, in the search for alien intelligence, it was very unlikely that the project would successfully produce tangible results in its first attempts.

Astronomers are constantly capturing distinctive radio signals from distant parts of the universe. In fact, that is how pulsars were first discovered, spiking the interest of scientists.

There's also 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 other civilizations in the extensive cosmos. And yet, thus far, we have not.

How is this possible? Well, the universe is very large, and signals may have a hard time coming all the way to Earth. We may also not have advanced enough tools to detect existing signals.