Amidst the hills of the remote Guizhou Province in southwestern China lies the largest radio telescope on the planet. Referred to as FAST, or Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope, this behemoth has been built by the Chinese government in order to monitor deep space radio frequencies primarily in search of extraterrestrial life.
Stretching 500 meters from tip to tip and taking up space equivalent to 30 football fields, FAST easily dwarfs all of its contemporaries (1). As in the case of all telescopes, bigger is better. More surface area allows for more light to be collected, therefore improving the image seen. This same logic applies to radio telescopes but instead of collecting light, FAST collects radio signals.
FAST is so massive that unlike other, smaller, telescopes it cannot be rotated. To get around this, special mirrored panels on the telescope allow for the signal to be directed towards different parts of the sky (2). FAST’s massive size gives it a range of 1,351 light years, a distance that no other telescope can come close to competing with (3).
Part of the reason for the scientific community’s excitement behind FAST is due to the recent success of other radio telescopes. Radio telescopes have played a crucial role in a handful of recent major astronomical discoveries, such as pulsars, quasars and cosmic microwave background radiation. Additionally, 6 of the last 10 Nobel prizes in physics have been attributed to the work of radio telescopes (1). Many scientists believe that FAST will further improve and expand on these recent findings by other radio telescopes.
Perhaps the most enticing aspect of FAST is the part it will play in the search for extraterrestrial life. FAST’s potential to discover alien life has been estimated to be 5 to 10 times greater than all other current telescopes (1). This is primarily due to the fact that FAST can see planets that are farther away and darker than previous technology could see. If anything has the chance to detect alien life, it’s FAST.
FAST was activated on September 25, 2016, meaning that its search for alien life has just begun.
(1) "Xinhua Insight: Installation Complete on World's Largest Radio Telescope." - Xinhua. N.p., 07 July 2016. Web. 05 Oct. 2016.
(2) Nelson, Bryan. "World's Largest Telescope Now Ready to Receive Messages from E.T." MNN. N.p., 01 Oct. 2016. Web. 05 Oct. 2016.
(3) Smith, Gina. "FAST Forward: China’s Massive New Alien-Finding Telescope Explained." ANewDomain. N.p., 05 Sept. 2016. Web. 05 Oct. 2016.
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