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Deep in the rural Chinese Guizhou Province lies the largest radio telescope on the planet. The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) is the size of 30 football fields, and according to China Daily, is sensitive enough to hear a cell phone conversation on the Moon. After only a year of trial operations, FAST has found two pulsars in the Milky Way. FAST’s initial success is a promising preview of future discoveries and is even more impressive considering that China struggled to find scientists to operate it. FAST owes its initial success to chief scientist Nan Rendong, who died of lung cancer in September 2017 after spending 22 years planning and building humanity’s largest ear to the Universe.

What Is FAST Searching For In Space?

FAST will study pulsars, radio wave sources, neutral hydrogen and interstellar molecules to help astronomers create a more detailed map of the Universe, as well as a better understanding of interstellar chemistry. It also is tasked with listening for signals from other intelligent life, as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has done for more than three decades. So far, however, SETI has not found anything, which raises doubts about whether humanity has neighbors in space.

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