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Astronomers Around the World Can Now Use China’s Alien-Hunting Telescope

It was previously only available to Chinese astronomers.

by Meera Navlakha
27 September 2019, 6:39am

The telescope in 2016. Image via Flickr user internetadn. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). 

Here’s an opportunity for those ambitious Area 51 stormers: find alien life through China’s 500-meter telescope. This might be more attainable than that other plan.

That’s right. After half a decade of building and three years of tests, China has opened up its 500-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) to astronomers everywhere, Nature reported. Located in the remote Dawodang area of Guizhou province in southwest China, FAST can scan twice as much of the sky than the next-biggest single-dish telescope, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

The Chinese government is expected to allow FAST to begin operating fully next month. When testing initially began in 2016, only Chinese scientists were allowed to take part. But researchers from around the world will be permitted to do so from now on.

The Chinese telescope named Tianyan or “Eye of Heaven” was made with 4,400 aluminium panels.

The technology has the ability to detect millisecond blasts of radiation, also known as fast radio bursts (FRBs). Some think these might be alien signals, although many astronomers have criticised this theory.

The massive US$171-million telescope can use radio waves to find exoplanets, which may be home to aliens and other extraterrestrial life. The telescope’s size also means it can detect radio waves from dead stars and find hydrogen in distant galaxies.

FAST only examines a portion of the sky at any given time, so finding FRBs will be difficult, but their locations can be detected because of the telescope’s sensitivity. This will help scientists identify their environments. These bursts are particularly exciting to people who study FRBs and want to discover what the fleeting, mysterious pulses could be.

FAST can also fuel international efforts to spot ripples in space-time as they go through the galaxy. By the 2030s, the telescope should be able to study individual sources of collisions of supermassive black holes.

Welcome to the future.

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