Jan 28, 2020

China's FAST alien-hunting telescope comes online

Miriam Kramer, author of Space

FAST in China. Photo: Ou Dongqu/Xinhua via Getty

China's Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) began official science operations earlier this month, making it the largest operating telescope of its kind on Earth.

Why it matters: The $100 million Breakthrough Listen project is expected to survey 100 nearby galaxies, 1 million stars and the galactic plane for radio signatures that could only have been sent out by an advanced society, and FAST is expected to help.

  • Scientists have trouble parsing out exactly which signals might be from outside of our solar system and which might have been created by human activity.
  • FAST's advanced technology will help cut down on any false-positives, Breakthrough Listen scientist Vishal Gajjar told Axios.

Where it stands: FAST has already done a preliminary observation in collaboration with Breakthrough Listen, listening for signals from the planet GJ273b as a proof of concept for the telescope, Gajjar said.

  • Breakthrough Listen expects to hunt for radio signatures coming from the Andromeda galaxy and planets discovered by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite using FAST, Gajjar added.
  • Breakthrough Listen and FAST also have a partnership to share information, making sure any promising looking signals are followed up on quickly.

But, but, but: Just because scientists are listening for advanced intelligent life doesn't mean it's out there, or that we can hear it.

  • While powerful telescopes like FAST aid in the hunt, it's possible that our tools simply aren't sensitive enough to pick up SETI signals yet.

Go deeper: The search for life as we don't know it

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