China’s alien-hunting telescope, the world’s largest, is now operational

worlds largest radio telescope version 1467602669 fast china
FAST
If there is alien life out there, then this gargantuan radio telescope in China will likely find it.

After years in development, construction workers slotted into place the final piece of the 500-meter aperture spherical telescope (aka FAST) back in July. And following months of testing, FAST became fully operational on September 25. The giant telescope will aid in China’s quest to achieve “major advances and breakthroughs at the frontier of science,” China’s President Xi Jinping said in a congratulatory message on Sunday. Calling the telescope the nation’s “eye in the sky,” Xi and other Chinese officials certainly have high hopes for the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope.

It’s a symbolic achievement for China, which is aiming to prove not only its economic well-being, but its scientific prowess as well. “Astronomy is an ultimate expression of ‘pure’ science that has little immediate practical benefits,” Luis C. Ho, the director of the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University, told the New York Times via email. “It is a luxury that only the most advanced economies enjoy.” And now, it’s a luxury that exists in the backyard of one of China’s most impoverished areas.

The telescope comprises 4,500 panels, each measuring about 11 meters (36 feet) in length and which together form an enormous dish. The design will allow researchers to make minute adjustments to the shape of the dish, enabling them to reflect faraway radio signals to a single focal point for detailed examination.

It’s big, really big

Suggesting that for astronomers, size really does matter, China’s gigantic radio telescope gives us the best chance yet of locating possible alien life in distant parts of the universe.

“With a larger signal receiving area and more flexibility, FAST will be able to scan two times more sky area than Arecibo [currently the largest operational radio telescope], with three to five times higher sensitivity,” National Astronomical Observatories chief scientist Li Di told the China Daily last year.

Besides detecting radio signals from billions of light years away, the telescope will also be able to spot new galaxies, extrasolar planets, and highly magnetic neutron stars, or pulsars. It is hoped that the gathered information will help scientists learn more about the evolution of our universe.

FAST is located in China’s south-western province of Guizhou, about 1,000 miles (1,610 km) south-west of Beijing. Its construction, at a cost of around $185 million, forms part of the nation’s efforts to create a full-fledged space program, a key ambition of its current leader, President Xi Jinping. Other plans include getting an astronaut to the moon and the creation of an orbiting space station, with construction planned to begin in 2018.

The telescope’s construction has resulted in the displacement of more than 2,000 families — around 9,000 people — living within three miles of the construction site. The government insisted that moving residents from the area was necessary in order to “create a sound electromagnetic wave environment” for the telescope. Officials handed each affected resident compensation of 12,000 yuan (about $1,800), equivalent to around half the average salary for Chinese workers, before resettling them in nearby locations.

While other huge radio telescopes have so far failed to find alien life, let’s hope FAST can happen upon something in the coming years to prove decisively that we are not alone.

Article originally published July 4, 2016. Updated on 09-25-2016 by Lulu Chang: Added news that FAST is now fully operational.

Apple

Rumors say Apple's AirPower wireless charger may finally be in production

At its September event in 2018, Apple unveiled the AirPower, a new wireless charging mat that will allow you to charge multiple devices at one time. It has not yet been released. Here's everything we know about the device so far.
Emerging Tech

Short film celebrates New Yorker’s amazing robot costumes

New York City resident Peter Kokis creates stunning robot costumes out of household trash. His designs are huge, heavy, and extremely intricate, and never fail to turn heads when he's out and about.
Home Theater

Disney’s ‘Vision and Scarlet Witch’ streaming series hires ‘Captain Marvel’ writer

Marvel has hired Captain Marvel screenwriter Jac Schaeffer to serve as head writer and showrunner on its upcoming series The Vision and Scarlet Witch, which is expected to be one of the first shows on the Disney Plus streaming service.
Emerging Tech

Muse’s Softband will help you meditate your way into a good night’s sleep

Muse has unveiled its first soft headband at CES 2019. The Softband allows users to listen to guided meditations in bed, and then keeps track of their sleep patterns while they get some shut-eye.
Emerging Tech

Earth’s magnetic field is shifting, vital map can’t be updated due to shutdown

The Earth's magnetic field is moving, effecting navigation systems of all kinds. A model of the field should have been good until its scheduled update in 2020, however, it has moved so quickly that an update is required much sooner.
Emerging Tech

Scientists debate mysterious flash of light in space, known as ‘The Cow’

On June 16, 2018 there was an unusual flash in the sky which puzzled astronomers around the world. NASA researchers have been collecting data on the event and have shared two competing theories for what could have caused it.
Emerging Tech

Brightest quasar ever seen discovered by Hubble, may be star-producing machine

The brightest quasar even seen has been observed with the Hubble Space Telescope using a technique called strong gravitational lensing. The quasar is enormously energetic and may be producing thousands of stars per year.
Emerging Tech

Watch China’s moon mission touch down on the planet’s far side

Video has been shared of a lander's-eye view of China's Chang'e 4 mission touching down in the Von Kármán Crater on the far side of the moon. The craft captured footage of the descent with a camera which was attached to the probe.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX nails its first launch and landing of 2019, but job cuts loom

SpaceX has nailed its first launch and landing of 2019 with a mission that deployed more satellites for Virginia-based Iridium Communications. But the success was soured somewhat by reports of upcoming job losses at the company.
Emerging Tech

The best 3D printers for 2019

On the hunt for a new 3D printer? We've got your back. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned veteran, this list of the best 3D printers has what you're looking for.
Emerging Tech

The enormous ‘Flying Bum’ moves toward a commercial design

A prototype of the world's largest aircraft is being retired as the company behind it prepares to build a production model. The new Airlander 10, also known as the "Flying Bum," could be ready for commercial use by 2025.
Emerging Tech

Face-scanning A.I. can help doctors spot unusual genetic disorders

Facial recognition can unlock your phone. Could it also be used to identify whether a person has a rare genetic disorder, based on their facial features? New research suggests it can.
Emerging Tech

Lasers and bovine breathalyzer help determine how much methane cows produce

Cow farts and belches don't sound like catastrophic threats, but they contribute to the massive amounts of methane in the atmosphere. Recently, scientists set out to establish the numbers.
Emerging Tech

Researchers discover a way to make 3D printing 100 times faster using light

Researchers at the University of Michigan have invented a new method of 3D printing which is up to 100 times faster than conventional 3D-printing processes. Here's how it works and why it could prove a game-changer for 3D printing.