20016 was a year of unprecedented achievement for China’s ambitious space program: the country has launched a dark-matter seeking satellite and another orbiting satellite to test quantum communications, outlined plans to send rovers to Mars and the dark side of the moon, and successfully launched a new Long March rocket. This new Long March rocket will soon be transporting Chinese taikonauts to Tiangong-2, China’s second crewed space station which was just put into orbit earlier this month.
The new FAST radio telescope has double the sensitivity of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, and five to 10 times the surveying speed, making it Earth's ultimate alien-finding telescope. The FAST telescope’s ability to detect interstellar signals up to 1,351 light years away makes it a natural for “searching for intelligent extraterrestrial life,” said Qian Lei, a researcher at China’s National Astronomical Observatory
“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 … is approaching us,” Qian said.
Astronomers at SETI been scanning the Milky galaxy for years in an attempt to pinpoint some series of radio signals that would suggest an intelligent civilization is behind them. Like the Arecibo telescope before it, which in 1974 sent out images of a human and some diagrams of the organic chemicals that make life possible, FAST can send messages, as well.
"We are lucky to be in a special era, with the next generation of giant telescopes on the way. There may be some exciting discoveries in the following 10 to 20 years," says Mao Shude, director of the Center for Astrophysics of the Beijing-based Tsinghua University. "I think primitive life is likely to be abundant, but intelligent life might be rarer," says Mao, also director of the Galaxy and Cosmology Division of the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC), Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Regardless of the theoretical debate about potential dangers, scientists have never wavered in the search. "I think we shall call out. As a matter of fact, we have been yelling for years, and our radios and televisions are broadcasting in space all the time," Mao says, "Aren't you curious what our counterparts would look like?
"If they are inferior or equal to us in terms of civilization, we won't be easily destroyed. If they are much more intelligent than us, they wouldn't be so narrow-minded as to compete with us. Some worry they will come to rob us of our natural resources, but they likely have the power to transform the entire globe already. What's the point of eliminating a much lower civilization?"
Mao believes the result will be significant however it turns out. "If we find other life, it will undoubtedly be the most important scientific discovery in our history; if not, it shows that life on Earth is unique and we should respect life and cherish each other.
"The ultimate goal of FAST is to discover the laws of the development of the universe," Qian Lei, an associate researcher with the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told state broadcaster CCTV. "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."
The telescope requires a radio silence within a 5-kilometer (3-mile) radius, resulting in the relocation of more than 8,000 people from their homes in eight villages to make way for the facility, state media said. Reports in August said the villagers would be compensated with cash or new homes from a budget of about $269 million from a poverty relief fund and bank loans.
CCTV reported that during a recent test, the telescope received radio signals from a pulsar that was 1,351 light-years from Earth.