Part 2: A Discourse on an Alien Obsession, a FAST Telescope, and an Extraterrestrial Supercomputer
How a country that was once scientifically behind the rest of the world may be the first to contact alien life
China is now in somewhat of a scientific renaissance. The amount of money that China is spending on scientific research is on track to outpace the US in the near future and it currently passed a five-year budget plan that includes spending 2.5% of its GDP on research. China has already built the world’s fastest supercomputer and has initiated a massive environmental project to stop the Gobi from advancing and desertifying the landscapes of China, but now it sets its sights on deep space. This part of the two-part story will discuss the role China has taken in human efforts to discover alien life and the possible implications of making first contact.
How China Became Obsessed with Aliens
One could say that China’s penchant for alien hunting all started with the Chinese renaissance of Science Fiction literature. This sudden thirst for all things paranormal started with a book entitled the Three-Body Problem by prolific writer Liu Cixin. This book which tells the story of a woman who sends a message to faraway planets during China’s Cultural Revolution. This book became a massive success. It won all sorts of awards, is being adapted into a movie, and also became one of Barack Obama’s favorite reads. However, it also caught the attention of China’s scientific community. China’s nascent scientific community, which is constantly looking for new ways to advance decided to build the world’s premier radio telescope with the sole purpose of hunting for aliens. The first step in assembling the radio telescope was developing a team of scientists to realize this abstract goal. The Chinese community quickly elected Nan Rendong to head the program. Nan Rendong a celebrated radio astronomer was more than qualified to head the project and he was extremely dedicated as well. Next, came the task of picking a site for the telescope. The telescope had to be in a remote area so that scientists would not mistake the signals from someone’s cell phone for alien contact. Nan used satellite imagery to scour the Chinese landscape for candidate sites. Once he narrowed down the list, he physically visited every site before deciding on the Dawodong Depression in Guizhou province. The Dawodong Depression is perfect for a radio telescope because it is essentially a giant bowl surrounded by mountains which help to block out terrestrial radio signals. Then came the building process. It took 20 years and over $100 million to build the telescope but it was a beauty once it was completed. After building came tests and calibrations. Unfortunately, during this phase, Nan died and the Chinese community is now looking for someone to head the operation. Thankfully, I think the position will be filled quickly as a $1.9 million grant will be offered to whoever will take the top spot. The telescope is currently still in the calibration phase but once this phase is done, the telescope will begin to scan large portions of space for alien life.
How the Telescope Works
The Chinese radio telescope known as FAST, will work by scanning for radio waves, the weakest form of electromagnetic radiation. It will scan for these waves in much the same way radios scan for signals from radio stations, except FAST’s receivers will be able to detect signals from galaxies far, far away as opposed to radio signals from the next town over. If a beacon is received it will fly into the huge dish of the telescope and get funneled into the telescope’s receiver. Once here, the Chinese scientists will verify that the beacon is, in fact, extraterrestrial. The FAST telescope differs from older radio telescopes because it is far more sensitive and can scan a large quantity of planets in a fast amount of time. If the extraterrestrial signal is received, the Chinese government can choose what it wants to do with the data that it has received. It could choose to tell the world about its findings, it could choose not to, or it could choose to only share certain information with the world. However, it is international protocol to share an extraterrestrial message with the world should one ever be received.
Implications of First Contact
Scientists, philosophers, and writers can debate for centuries over what type of signal that aliens will send to humans. Some, like Liu Cixin, think that aliens will only send a signal to humans when their civilization is dying. Others believe that humans could possibly detect traces of alien life when an alien civilization is planning to expand. Some even question who will send the first beacon of life. Will it be an alien government, will it be a radical alien group, or will it be an advanced supercomputer that has already conquered an alien civilization? Also, people wonder what will happen if people are made aware of an alien signal being received. Will humans declare war like in movies, or are we more advanced than that? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain. If aliens want to make an effective first impression, they should be learning mandarin.