China to Search for Extraterrestrial Life With World’s Biggest and Most Sensitive Radio Telescope

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China is joining the search for extraterrestrial life with construction of the world’s biggest and most sensitive radio telescope.

The final piece of the 500 m Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, or FAST, has been fitted, the BBC reports, and operations are slated to begin in September. The radio telescope is designed to “search for intelligent life from outer space,” according to China’s state broadcaster CCTV.

The $185 million device, which is constructed into a natural karst depression in southwest China’s Guizhou province to protect it from electromagnetic disruption, has a one-mile circumference and comprises nearly 4,500 panels. After debugging, it will be used to detect for pulsars over 1,000 light years deep into the universe.

“Understanding the fundamental physics of pulsars will help us understand the Big Bang,” Yue Youling, associate researcher of National Astronomical Observatories, told CCTV. “Now we only know what happened after the Big Bang, everything before that relies on our calculation. Therefore, there are a lot of uncertainties.”

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SOURCE: TIME, Charlie Campbell