Sunday, September 25, 2016

World's largest radio telescope begins scanning universe for signs of life

China on Sunday announced that the world's largest radio telescope is now operational and has begun scanning the universe.

The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope's (FAST), which is the size of 30 soccer fields, was switched on shortly after noon local time (4:00 GMT) in the mountains of China's southwest Guizhou Province, the state run Xinhua news agency said.

Hundreds of researchers watched with excitement as the telescope began scanning the skies for radio emissions, gravitational waves, distant pulsars -- tiny, rapidly spinning neutron stars believed to be the products of supernova explosions, and signs of intelligent life out in the vast expanses of space.

The telescope cost $180 million and took five years to construct. It comes complete with an observation deck for visitors.

Qian Lei, an associate researcher with the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told state broadcaster CCTV that "the ultimate goal of FAST is to discover the laws of the development of the universe."

"In theory, if there is civilization in outer space, the radio signal it sends will be similar to the signal we can receive when a pulsar (spinning neutron star) is approaching us," Qian explained.

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