China Says It's Detected Candidate Signals of Alien Life

It's unlikely to be ET, but China's next-generation radio telescope is still a major asset in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
It's unlikely to be ET, but China's next-generation radio telescope is still a major asset in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
FAST. Image: Xinhua News Agency / Contributor via Getty Images
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Scientists in China announced that they found potential signs of intelligent aliens on Tuesday, according to a report published in the state-run newspaper Science and Technology Daily

The report, which has since been removed from the original site but is reposted on the social media app Weixin, claimed that the nation’s enormous FAST telescope, nicknamed the “Sky Eye,” picked up radio signals that could indicate extraterrestrial intelligence, though it is much more likely that these candidate observations were made by humans here on Earth. 

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"The possibility that the suspicious signal is some kind of radio interference is… very high, and it needs to be further confirmed or ruled out,” Zhang Tongjie, chief scientist of China Extraterrestrial (E.T.) Civilization Research Group, told Science and Technology Daily. “This may be a long process.”

Candidate signals for intelligent aliens are common and often turn out to be radio signals from human sources that get bounced into telescopes such as FAST, which stands for Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope. For instance, a particularly compelling narrowband radio signal detected in 2019 that appeared to originate from the nearest star system to Earth, Alpha Centauri, was ultimately traced to an electronic device on Earth.

These false alarms can be disappointing for those who hope to find life elsewhere in the universe, but they actually mark progress in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). New telescopes such as FAST, which is the biggest single-dish radio observatory on Earth, represent a new generation of sophisticated instruments that are better equipped than their predecessors to spot alien biomarkers and technosignatures, meaning signs of biological and technological activity, respectively. 

To that end, FAST will “achieve sensitivities never before explored” and could detect advanced civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy or its neighbor, Andromeda, according to a 2020 paper outlining the telescope’s capabilities in Research in Astronomy and Astrophysics

So while it’s unlikely that the newly detected candidate signal will be traced back to smart aliens, the telescope offers one of our best shots at finding life elsewhere in the universe, if it exists.  

"'China Sky Eye' will repeat the observation of suspicious signals that have been discovered to further identify and detect new signals," said Zhang Tongjie in the report. “We look forward to 'China Sky Eye' being the first to discover and confirm the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations."