China’s big dish will gather data, lis­ten for alien life

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By XIN­HUA in­Wash­ing­ton

China’s Five-hun­dred-me­ter Aper­ture Spher­i­cal Tele­scope, known as FAST, may pro­vide un­der­stand­ing of the ori­gin and struc­ture of the uni­verse, and ac­cel­er­ate and even rev­o­lu­tion­ize the search for life be­yond Earth, a renowned US the­o­rist on alien in­tel­li­gence said on Satur­day.

Dou­glasVakoch, pres­i­dent of METI In­ter­na­tional, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­motes send­ing mes­sages into space in search for ex­trater­res­trial in­tel­li­gence, said that as­tronomers world­wide will be in­vited to use the Chi­nese ob­ser­va­tory if their pro­pos­als suc­cess­fully pass com­pet­i­tive re­views.

“By open­ing FAST to use by the broader in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, China is demon­strat­ing its com­mit­ment to fos­ter­ing as­tron­omy as a global sci­en­tific en­ter­prise,” he said, adding that it may lead to “dis­cov­er­ies be­yond our wildest imag­i­na­tion”.

As for FAST’s sci­en­tific mis­sions, Vakoch said it will be used to look for the sig­na­tures of com­plex or­ganic molecules in in­ter­stel­lar space, which will show how widely the ba­sic build­ing blocks of life are dis­trib­uted through­out the cos­mos.

“For over a half-cen­tury, as­tronomers have been us­ing ra­dio tele­scopes to an­swer the haunt­ing ques­tion: Are we alone?” he said. “But as­tronomers face a daunt­ing chal­lenge: The sig­nals they seek are so weak that an in­cred­i­bly sen­si­tive tele­scope is needed to de­tect them.”

“FAST’s in­no­va­tive de­sign and huge col­lect­ing area give it un­sur­passed speed and sen­si­tiv­ity, mak­ing it vi­tal to the search for ex­trater­res­trial in­tel­li­gence in the com­ing decades,” Vakoch said. “We can ex­pect China to be­come a world leader in the search for ex­trater­res­trial in­tel­li­gence be­cause of its demon­strated com­mit­ment in build­ing FAST.”

How­ever, FAST will not ini­tially be out­fit­ted with the sig­nal pro­cess­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties to search for aliens, he said; such tech­nol­ogy will be added at a later stage. But when that hap­pens, FAST will be able to scan the heav­ens for sig­nals that “can’t be cre­ated by na­ture, but only by ad­vanced civ­i­liza­tions”.

Based on the re­cent his­tory

We can ex­pect China to be­come a world leader in the search for ex­trater­res­trial in­tel­li­gence.” pres­i­dent of METI In­ter­na­tional

Dou­glas Vakoch, of ra­dio tele­scopes, he also pre­dicted that FAST will lead to “a dra­matic in­crease in the num­ber and va­ri­ety of pul­sars dis­cov­ered”.

Pul­sars, one of FAST’s main sci­en­tific tar­gets, are dense ro­tat­ing stars that act as cos­mic clocks, as they emit pulses reg­u­larly, like metronomes.

This could also pro­vide sci­en­tists with the ca­pa­bil­ity to de­tect grav­i­ta­tional waves, or rip­ples in space­time, from pairs of mas­sive black holes, since FAST has the po­ten­tial to pre­cisely mea­sure tiny changes of the puls­ing rates of pul­sars as grav­i­ta­tional waves pass by.

Vakoch high­lighted FAST’s role in un­der­pin­ning China’s space pro­gram, not­ing that the coun­try has made great break­throughs in space ex­plo­ration, such as putting hu­mans into Earth or­bit and hav­ing as­tro­nauts dock with an or­bit­ing mod­ule as a first step to­ward de­vel­op­ing a Chi­nese space sta­tion.

“With the open­ing of FAST, China con­tin­ues to demon­strate that it is a world leader in space ex­plo­ration— now from an Earth­based ob­ser­va­tory, as well as from space,” he said. “As­tronomers around the world can be grate­ful to China for cre­at­ing an ob­ser­va­tory that may lead to dis­cov­er­ies be­yond our wildest imag­i­na­tion.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.