China steps up search for new alien civilization with giant radio telescope
China has unveiled plans to construct a giant radio telescope in an effort to find out if we are alone in the universe, and to get to the bottom of other cosmic mysteries that have been capturing our imagination for years.
Last month China approved plans to build the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world as it looks to advance its capability to search for alien species, gravitational waves, dark matter and other cosmic mysteries.
The country already owns the world’s largest radio telescope – the Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) – which, however, is a huge stationary dish built into the landscape, much like Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory.
Rather than stationary, the new telescope will be fully steerable, similar to the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia which can be rotated and pointed at specific targets.
The giant radio telescope – to be known as the Xingjiang Qitai 110m Radio Telescope (QTT) – will feature a steerable dish that will have the ability to cover approximately 75% of the sky.
Located in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, it will also feature the world’s largest antenna, capable of tracing the origins of any signals received.
QTT will combine its abilities with those of FAST, which can cover some frequencies that are lower than what the new radio telescope will be able to pick up.
However, the two radio telescopes will have overlapping coverage in between around 150 MHz and 3 GHz, which will include the so-called “water hole” – an area of particular interest to researchers.
Doug Vakoch of METI International, which searches for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) and develops potential messages for E.T.s, describes this so-called “water hole” as ‘a quiet space between prominent spectral lines created by hydrogen and hydroxyl, the constituents of water’.
He said the overlapping frequency range of the two telescope means that both telescopes would be able to switch on as soon as one of them detects a candidate signal, assuming the data is being analyzed in real time.
Mr. Vakoch, however, is more excited by the prospect of solving some of the great natural mysteries of the universe, rather than the quest for signs of distant advanced civilizations.
Since its commissioning, FAST was able to discover two pulsars. It remains to be seen whether the added capability of QTT will help scientists unravel some of the biggest mysteries of the universe.
Don’t hold your breath, though – QTT is only scheduled for commissioning in 2023. Still, sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Fingers crossed!