Jan 28, 2020

China's FAST alien-hunting telescope comes online

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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Why it matters: While the telescope is still able to function today, NASA made the decision to shut it down, saying $14 million per year is too high a cost for its diminishing science return as the observatory will likely be inoperable soon.

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New telescope takes highest-resolution photo of the Sun's surface

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Why it matters: Images and videos like these taken by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii can help scientists understand the inner workings of our nearest star, potentially helping predict dangerous space weather in the future.

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