China is building the world?s largest radio telescope in the hopes of boosting the global hunt for extraterrestrial life.
The telescope will be 500 meters or 1,640 feet in diameter, making it one of the largest instruments of its kind in the world. The massive dish called the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) is being constructed in Guizhou in southwest China. The construction of the telescope began in 2011 at a cost of $250 million and is expected to be completed this September.
More than 9,000 Chinese villagers who live within three miles of the telescope in the area of Pingtang and Luodian counties in the southwestern province of Guizhou will be relocated in order to create a radio-quiet zone for the world?s largest telescope. The radio telescope will listen for radio waves in the universe, a common strategy used by scientists to search for intelligent extraterrestrial life.
Wu Xiangping, the director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society, told Xinhua that FAST?s high level of sensitivity will help scientists to ?search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy and explore the origins of the universe.?
Last year, Shi Zhicheng, a Chinese astronomer, said the telescope represented a giant leap in the hunt for alien life. ?If intelligent aliens exist, the messages that they produced or left behind, if they are being transmitted through space, can be detected and received by FAST,? Shi said.
So will the telescope detect Aliens?
That?s quite complicated according to famed astronomer Jill Tarter, who said that since we couldn?t physically see that far into the universe; we use technology to detect the radio waves through which we possibly could learn about extraterrestrial life.
?We can?t define intelligence and we can?t detect it at a distance,? said Tarter, who is working for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. ?So we?re stuck using a proxy. And that proxy for us has always been technology. We?re looking for something that modifies its environment in ways that we could recognize in the vast distances between the stars.?
Besides, it would be difficult to detect aliens so easily because even with these huge telescopes we will just be looking at small portions of the incredibly vast universe. According to Tarter, it is akin to examining one glass of water from the oceans for intelligent life.
Additionally, the technology we use may not be advanced enough to detect alien life. ?We may not have invented the right way to do this yet,? Tarter said.
However, Tarter believes with advancement in technology and better telescopes in the near future, the search will become more effective as we will see through pools and lakes worth of universe.
Unfortunately, if we contact aliens we could end up in a worse situation if they turn out to be technically advanced than us. Stephen Hawking once said that in case aliens visit us, they obviously will be more advance than us and the outcome could be similar to what happened to native Americans when Columbus landed in America.
But others believed that aliens could be empathic and understanding, since humans too have evolved over the years making us pursue science and space exploration. Even then, they would likely have the upperhand than us with their advance technology.