World’s largest radio telescope begins hunt for extraterrestrial life

The world’s largest radio telescope began searching for signals from stars and galaxies in a hunt for extraterrestrial life on Sunday. The 500m wide installation, nestled within a stunning landscape of lush green karst formations in the Guizhou province of China, was opened in front of hundreds of astronomers and space enthusiasts. Known as the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, it will scan the heavens for gravitational waves. “The ultimate goal of FAST is to discover the laws of the development of the universe,” said researcher Qian Lei.

In theory, if there is civilization in outer space, the radio signal it sends will be similar to the signal we can receive when a pulsar (spinning neutron star) is approaching us.

Researcher Qian Lei

It took five years and $180 million to complete and surpasses that of the 300m Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, a dish used in research on stars that led to a Nobel Prize. Installation of the 4,450-panel structure, nicknamed Tianyan, or the Eye of Heaven, started in 2011 and was completed in July. It has double the sensitivity of the Arecibo Observatory and five to 10 times the surveying speed. The telescope requires a radio silence within a 5km (three-mile) radius, resulting in more than 8,000 people being moved from their homes in eight villages to make way for the facility.

China’s latest telescope will be able to look faster and further than past searches for extraterrestrial intelligence

Douglas Vakoch, president of alien-hunting group METI