The more we pry into the enormity of the universe the more we find ourselves baffled as to what lies there – totally undiscovered and verging towards what we can describe as the infinity of creation. The mere concept of infinity is hard to imagine and yet the gigantic fields of unchartered territories of space which cannot be quantified is beyond the comprehension of the human brain. Can we ever at least gain some knowledge as to what has remained the greatest mystery of mankind and perhaps find alien civilisations many moons away who are more advanced than our own with capabilities that defy the imaginative realm that defines us?
If the truth is out there, China is determined to find it with a radio telescope that has been switched on recently which astronomers have described as a ‘game changer’ in the search for extra-terrestrial life.
The world’s largest stargazer will allow China to look further into space than any nation has before. The dish, which is known as FAST (Five-hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope) is made up of 4,450 triangular panels and is nestled in a valley in the south-western Guizhou Province.
It not only dwarfs the next biggest disc, Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico which is 300m wide, but it is also ten times more sensitive according to Zheng Xionian, deputy director of China’s National Astronomical Observatories which constructed FAST. The 140m-high telescope seeks to unlock answers on the evolution of the universe through studying the distribution of neutral hydrogen and it will also gather data on phenomena including pulsars and black holes. But it is the ability of the gargantuan dish to hunt for extra-terrestrial life which has some scientists excited.
‘Past efforts have been described as someone walking to the edge of the ocean, dipping in a glass and concluding there are no fish,’ said Jane Johnson, Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. But now ‘a more thorough search is possible’ the expert on the Chinese state program added.
It has taken more than two decades for FAST to become a reality. The project was first mooted in 1993 but it was ten years until scientists first settled on an appropriate site – a large, round, depression surrounded by verdant hills about 100 miles south of the city of Guiyang.
The mountains created an equilateral triangle meaning that the dish could be positioned into the valley like an egg in an eggcup without the need to dig. Dr Douglas Vakoch, president of METI International, an organisation that promotes sending messages into space in the hope of finding alien life, said the dish would be able to ‘churn through the cosmic static looking for the tell-tale signs of intelligence.’
‘FAST will look for signs of advanced extra-terrestrial civilisations in the vicinity of other stars seeking radio signals that stand out as unlike anything the universe can create,’ Dr Vakoch said. ‘It is a game changer in the search for life in the universe,’ he added.
Well, I am personally excited and intrigued by the latest Chinese efforts to unravel aspects of the universe that have so far remained a great mystery. What a great achievement that would be.