Ever since the invention of the telescope, we have looked at the stars and wondered, "Are we alone?" Well, we wondered about it long before then, but it was only since the advent of the telescope that we could look to the skies with any hope of actually finding an answer. Individuals, groups, and governments have since devoted time and resources to finding signs of alien life.
Now, China is joining the extraterrestrial hunt in a major way. The National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC) has teamed up with Breakthrough Initiatives to bring the world's largest radio telescope into the search.
Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and Russian businessman Yuri Milner started Breakthrough Initiatives for the sole purpose of finding extraterrestrial life. It has three programs: Starshot, which will send nanocraft space robots to Alpha Centauri; Message, which will design the best platform to communicate with aliens; and Listen, which will use the world's radio telescopes to catch any signals from alien civilizations.
Thanks to the new collaboration with NAOC, Breakthrough Initiatives will get to use the Five-Hundred-Meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) — a 488 meter (1,600 foot) long radio telescope that went online this September. To give you an idea: It's longer than four American football fields.
The Chinese team from FAST will share data, methods, and observation plans with our planet's other gargantuan telescopes, including the Green Bank Telescope in the U.S. and the Parkes Observatory in Australia.
This new collaboration underscores how mainstream the search for extraterrestrial life has become. You only have to consider how the thought of aliens was dismissed and laughed at only a generation ago.
Today, it's not only thought there's most likely life out there, but a great deal of resources are devoted to actively search for it. In fact, a current mission of astronomy is finding planets that may hold alien life.
"'Are we alone?' is a question that unites us as a planet,” Breakthrough Initiatives founder Yuri Milner said in a statement. “And the quest to answer it should take place at a planetary level too.”