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World's Largest Radio Telescope Now Operates In China

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With the determination to lead the search for alien life, China has begun operating the world's largest radio telescope on Sunday, Sept. 25.

Hundreds of astronomers and science enthusiasts gathered at the launch of the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) at noon, according to the country's official news agency Xinhua.

Nestled in the mountainous region of Guizhou Province, the $180 million FAST observatory demonstrates the country's pursuit of scientific prestige, particularly in the field of astronomy.

Installation of the radio telescope's 4,450-panel reflector was finished in July this year, but it took five years for engineers to complete the entire project.

In Search Of Extraterrestrial Life

FAST will allow China to look further into the depths of space than any country has done before. More specifically, the gigantic dish would search for gravitational waves, listen for signs of alien life and detect radio emissions from distant galaxies and stars, Xinhua News said.

"The ultimate goal of FAST is to discover the laws of the development of the universe," said Qian Lei, a researcher at the National Astronomical Observatories (NAO) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which was behind the project.

Qian said that in theory, if an alien civilization exists in space, the radio signal it emits will be similar to the signal scientists receive when a pulsar is approaching.

Zheng Xiaonian, deputy director of the NAO, says FAST not only dwarfs the next biggest dish in the world, which is the 300-meter (984-foot) Arecibo Observatory located in Puerto Rico, but it is also 10 times more sensitive.

A Game Changer In Science

Joseph Taylor, an astronomer from Princeton University who was awarded with the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics, believes the FAST dish will bring more people into science.

"[It] will certainly generate enthusiasm," Taylor told Xinhua News.

Taylor says he expected the construction of FAST to be a productive project, even if he is unsure whether it will lead to a Nobel Prize.

Meanwhile, Qian says FAST has had a great start. In a recent observation, FAST received a set of high-quality electromagnetic waves from a pulsar that is 1,351 light years away. It was highly successful.

Douglas Vakoch, president of an organization that promotes messaging outer space from Earth, says FAST is a game changer in the search for alien life.

The radio telescope will soon "churn through the cosmic static, looking for the telltale signs of intelligence,” added Vakoch.

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