China took a huge leap in the search for extra-terrestrial life on Sunday after it switched on the world’s largest radio telescope.
The enormous dish called FAST, Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, is situated in the south-west of the country in the Guizhou province and cost 1.2 billion yuan (£140 million) to build.
Scientists are very excited and have called it a “game-changer” in the search for life in the universe
The telescope is made up of 4,450 triangular panels and can look further into space than any other previous device.
The next largest dish is a mere 300m wide and located at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Deputy director of China’s National Astronomical Observatories Zheng Xiaonian also claimed the new dish is also 10 times more sensitive.
FAST will mainly be used to look for clues to the evolution of the universe and help gather information on pulsars and black holes but can also search for signs of life on other planets.
Wu Xiangping, director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society told the news agency Xinhua that the telescope “will help us to search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy.”
The dish was first suggested in 1993 but construction began in 2011 and local officials said in February that nearly 10,000 people living within a five kilometre radius of the dish would be relocated.
Dr Douglas Vakoch, president of METI International, an organisation which promotes messaging outer space from Earth in the hope of finding extra-terrestrials, said the dish will not initially be outfitted with the signal processing capabilities to scan for aliens.
But it will soon be able to “churn through the cosmic static, looking for the tell-tale signs of intelligence”, he said.
“FAST will look for signs of advanced extraterrestrial civilisations in the vicinity of other stars, seeking radio signals that stand out as unlike anything that the universe can create,” Vakoch told The Telegraph.
It is a “game-changer in the search for life in the universe,” he added.
The move comes after famed physicist Stephen Hawkins warned about contacting alien life.
On his show Stephen Hawking’s Favourite Places he warned: “One day we might receive a signal from a planet like this, but we should be wary of answering back.
“Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well.”