China will begin searching for extraterrestrial life in the framework of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project. In September, the giant FAST (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope) radio telescope will begin to be used to search for extraterrestrial signals. The giant telescope is also known as the ‘Sky Eye’ in China.
SETI is normally based on the analysis of radio waves from outside our planet; and is that outer space is more ‘noisy’ than we might think. To do this, radio telescopes are used, usually several in conjunction to ‘launch a wider network’ and capture more signals.
As the name suggests, the FAST is one of the largest radio telescopes in the world – second-largest single-dish aperture after the sparsely-filled RATAN-600 in Russia. China has completed the construction of FAST, located in the Guizhou province, in the south-east of China, in 2016. The telescope officially went into services since January this year (after a three-year testing period), for general scientific purposes. But it’s in the midst of upgrades that could reduce the influence of interference on its work and provide the possibility of its use to search for potential signals of extraterrestrial civilizations.
The telescope consists of 4,500 individual panels responsible for collecting and processing the signal. The panels can be tilted to the desired shape. Although the reflector diameter is 500 meters, in reality, however, only the 300-meter section of the entire telescope can be actively used at any one time.
In China, the search will officially start next September, according to the state-owned media Science and Technology Daily. However, Zhang Tongjie, FAST’s chief researcher, emphasized that this new project has no priority over the rest, and will not interfere with the scientific work of other projects, such as detecting pulsars and other interstellar radio signals, which might offer clues about the formation of the universe. It is reported that with its help, 114 pulsars have already been discovered.
Although there are some interesting narrowband candidate ET signals, Zhang does not expect to find any evidence in the near future. He believes that the radio signals coming to Earth are unlikely to belong to extraterrestrial civilizations, but if there are still aliens transmitting signals, the FAST radio telescope will increase the chances of their detection.