China's Alien Hunt Begins: Country Making The World's Largest Telescope To Probe Universe

Shelley Hazen

When China finishes making its 500-meter-wide telescope, nicknamed the Sky Eye, it will be the world's largest. More importantly, it will be able to do things no other piece of equipment on Earth can do.

For example, when NASA discovered an "earth-like" planet in the "Goldilocks zone," a sweet spot that allowed it to support an atmosphere and liquid water, no one had equipment sensitive enough to detect radio signals coming from the distant planet, CNN reported. This would've told earthlings the planet also supported life.

But the Chinese telescope, which will be the largest and most sensitive when it's completed next year, would've been able to pick up those signals. And it's that level of sensitivity the country hopes will help humanity discover alien life.

Simply put, the larger the dish, the more sensitive it is.

"We can receive weaker and more distant radio messages. It will help us to search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy and explore the origins of the universe," Wu Xiangping, director-general of Chinese Astronomical Society, told the Xinhua news agency.

The scope is hard to imagine. Officially called the Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, construction began in July. When the Chinese are done making the telescope, it'll be the size of 30 football pitches, surpassing the 300-meter one located in Puerto Rico as the largest on Earth, the Independent reported. It takes 40 minutes to walk its one-mile long perimeter.

Nestled in a natural bowl-shaped valley in the mountains of southwest China, the country is making the dish in a spot that's perfect for listening to space: the structure is surrounded by three hills, which helps drain rainwater and protects its reflector. And the landscape is empty -- there are no cities or towns within three miles and only one heavily populated area within 15 miles.

The entire structure is suspended a bit above ground by pillars and cables. According to China Topix, it's comprised of 4,600 triangular panels, and each one can be moved precisely with an attached cable so it can listen to certain areas.

Astronomers will be able to examine the Milky Way, distant planets, and solar systems. Because its sensitivity will allow scientists to pick up faint pulsars and signals, the largest telescope has the potential to alter humanity's view of the entire universe and even help us find aliens.

"(It's) like a sensitive ear, listening to tell meaningful radio messages from white noise in the universe. It is like identifying the sound of cicadas in a thunderstorm," said Nan Rendong, the FAST project's chief scientist.

Making the Sky Eye is just one part of the nation's ambitious, military-led space program. The Chinese have sent a man into orbit already, plan to launch a space station, and hope to embark on a manned mission to the moon by the 2020s. This also allows their scientists to be at the forefront of scientific discovery, rather than relying on data from other countries as it has done in the past.

In other words, it seems as though China wants to be the first country to find aliens.

However, the SETI Institute, which is trying to find life on other planets, hasn't found any evidence just yet, even though it has plenty of telescopes -- both on earth and in space -- to help the institute look.

Even if making the largest telescope doesn't help China find aliens, it will certainly uncover more mysteries of the universe, as it has the potential to discover new planets, comets, and pulsars.

[Photo Courtesy YouTube Screengrab]