By Tim Binnall
An enormous radio telescope in China will soon begin hunting for alien signals in earnest as an arduous three-year-long testing phase for the project has nearly come to an end. The five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, also known as FAST, was built back in 2016 and, since construction was completed, scientists working at the site have been conducting trial operations of the device. According to a report from the Chinese media outlet CCTV late last month, their work will soon be coming to an end and FAST will be fully operational.
As its name indicates, the device measures a jaw-dropping 500 meters in diameter which, for those who not abide by the metric system, is a whopping 1,640 feet. By virtue of its staggering size, FAST now stands as the world's largest single-dish telescope, having smashed the previous record held by the famed Arecibo Observatory which is a 'mere' 300 feet in diameter. Beyond merely besting its predecessor in size, the telescope is also reportedly three times as sensitive as Arecibo as well.
In detailing the work that has been done at FAST so far, director of scientific operation Zhu Ming explained that "in the process of observing signals from celestial bodies, we also collect signals that might be emitted by humans or extraterrestrial intelligence." However, he cautioned that "this is a huge amount of work, since most signals we see, 99% of them, are various noises, so we need to take our time to identify the signals we want in the noises." Be that as it may, simply being able to detect such signals when other telescopes cannot constitutes a potential breakthrough when it comes to finally finding some indication of alien life.
Aside from possibly detecting an ET signal from space, astronomy professor Sun Xiaohui marveled that "FAST is so powerful that people are going to use it for all kinds of scientific observation." To that end, he expressed hope that the scientists working at the telescope can forge alliances with other research organizations and ultimately "observe the whole of our galaxy." Should that be the case, it may only be a matter of time before the long-awaited proverbial 'call from ET' reaches us here on Earth.