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China Says It May Have Detected Alien Activity Using ‘Sky Eye’ Telescope

The since-deleted report sent the internet abuzz, however scientists from other countries claim the findings may not be what they appear
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights' related issues, politics, tech and society.
Published: June 16, 2022
This picture taken on September 24, 2016 shows the 500-meter long Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) in Pingtang, located in southwestern China's Guizhou Province. (Image: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

A team of astronomers in China say they have identified a signal that could be from alien civilizations, the country’s science ministry reported.

Researchers from the Beijing Normal University said they have found “several cases of possible technological traces and extraterrestrial civilizations from outside the earth,” according to a report published on June 14 in the Science and Technology Daily — the official newspaper of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology.

According to the team of “alien-hunting” researchers, the signals were traced using the world’s largest radio telescope, known as “Sky Eye.” The narrowband signal emitted a “meaningful frequency,” though further confirmation was needed, the scientists said.

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Located in the country’s southwestern province of Guizhou, the 1,640 foot Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope — also known as FAST or Tianyan — was first built in 2011 and began operating on Sept. 26, 2016 after several years of testing and commissioning. 

The team detected two sets of suspicious signals made between November 2020 and September 2021, when the FAST telescope carried out its first targeted “search for extraterrestrial intelligence” (SETI) project, according to a translated version of the study’s report posted on Chinese social media. 

Where did the signals come from?

The candidate signal came from the direction of Kepler-438 — a red dwarf star that is part of the Lyra constellation and is located about 473 light years from Earth. Orbiting Kepler-438 in its habitable zone is Kepler-438b — an exoplanet discovered in 2015 that scientists have said is one of the most “Earth-like” stars found outside the solar system. 

Zhang Tongjie, chief scientist and cosmologist of China’s ET Civilization Research Group, told the state-run paper that the telescope had located “several narrow-band electromagnetic signals different from the past.” 

“The possibility that the suspicious signal is some kind of radio interference is also very high, and it needs to be further confirmed and ruled out. This may be a long process,” Zhang said. “‘China Sky Eye’ will repeat the observation of suspicious signals that have been discovered to further identify and detect new signals.”

According to the team’s manuscript submitted to Research Square, a preprint service where researchers share unpublished work with peers and welcome community feedback, the signal likely came from the vicinity of Kepler-438b, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported. 

“This is the only [radio] event that was only present in Beam 1 and not in any other beam, which makes it different from any other event we detected,” the team’s report said.

Debunking myths

After the study was published, it appeared to be deleted from China’s Science and Technology paper, leading researchers from other countries to question the validity of the Chinese team’s research. Dan Werthimer, chief scientist of the Berkeley SETI Research Center, told Salon magazine that he believed the signal to have been caused by transmission waves stemming from other electronics, such as cellphones or satellites. 

“I can’t speak to exactly what happens in Science and Technology Daily or why it was deleted,” Werthimer, who works with researchers in China, said, “but I can tell you that I’m familiar with these signals, and they don’t have anything to do with extraterrestrials.”

“They’re interference, they’re what we call radio frequency interference (RFI), due to transmitters on Earth, satellites, cell phones, computers and things that transmit weak signals that get into the antenna.” He attributed the signals to earthly sources because they “come and go no matter where you’ve pointed” with the telescope.  

Still, China hopes to continue its research in finding aliens, with lead researcher Zhang Tongjie describing how his team is planning to “monitor repeated observations of the strange signals to conclusively rule out any radio interference and obtain as much information about them as possible.”

“We look forward to the [FAST telescope] being the first to discover and confirm the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations,” Zhang was quoted as saying.