This fall, China is going to start looking for aliens with a special telescope. The Five-hundred-meter Aparture Spherical Telescope, also known by the fitting acronym FAST – which has the capacity to observe phenomena outside our solar system – will be used to conduct this monumental search.
The telescope is going to be operated under the leadership of Professor Zhang Tongjie, chief scientist of the country’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. “China Sky Eye,” as his project will be called informally, has the daunting task of discovering alien life, something no individual or government has yet managed to do.
The search for life in space has been ongoing ever since we discovered such a thing as space existed. Since no sign of it’s ever been found though, why should this endeavor be the one to succeed? Well, for one, the technology involved is quite revolutionary. Unlike regular telescopes, which are optic, FAST can scan the galaxies for radio signals, phenomena that can only be produced by sentient life.
The seeming absence of life in the universe has long puzzled scientists, who have taken to calling this puzzle the Fermi Paradox. Named after the Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi, it proposes that – if the universe is, as most believe, infinite – it follows that there must be an infinite amount of intelligent life as well.
Because the Fermi Paradox requires an answer that is – as of right now – purely speculative, it’s been of interest to more writers than scientists. Over the years, many arguments have been made to explain it, some optimistic and some not. On the brighter side of things, theorists have proposed that sentient life exists, but will not contact us until our civilization has reached a certain level of scientific progress.
Another, much bleaker hypothesis would suggest that life on other worlds can exist, does exist, has existed and will exist in the future, but that – by nature – it dies, either by itself or external forces, before it can advance far enough to seek its likeness elsewhere. If that’s the case, we can only hope that FAST will do the trick before it’s too late.