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China's giant radio telescope will start searching for aliens in September

Jon Fingas
Associate Editor
PINGTANG, Jan. 11, 2020 -- Panoramic photo taken on Jan. 11, 2020 shows China's Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope, FAST, under maintenance in southwest China's Guizhou Province. China completed commissioning of the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope on Saturday, putting it into formal operation after a productive three-year trial. The telescope will gradually open to astronomers around the globe, providing them with a powerful tool to uncover the mysteries surrounding the genesis and evolutions of the universe. (Photo by Liu Xu/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Liu Xu via Getty Images)

China will soon make a significant contribution to the search for extraterrestrial life. State media outlet Science and Technology Daily (via ChinaTechCity) says the country’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, will begin looking for alien signals in September. The telescope officially went into service for general science in January, but it’s in the midst of upgrades that could reduce interference and otherwise aid the search.

FAST has a 500-meter (1,640ft) diameter, although it only ever focuses a 300m (984ft) segment on the receiver at any given moment.

Chief scientist Zhang Tongjie stressed that the search shouldn’t interrupt regular science missions. As it stands, you probably won’t want to get your hopes up in the near future. While there are some “interesting narrowband candidate ET signals,” according to Zhang, he didn’t expect any of them to come from intelligent life. Typically, distinctive radio signals come from pulsars or random fast radio bursts. Still, if there are aliens broadcasting radio signals (and they’re close enough for us to receive them), FAST’s work will increase the chances that we receive them.