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China has unveiled its latest plans for the world's biggest radio telescope—to look for habitable planets beyond our solar system by finding out if they have a magnetic field.

Published in the journal Research in Astronomy and Astrophysics, the team behind the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) has announced its ambitions for the next decade—including the hunt for exoplanets.

FAST, as the name suggests, is a 1,600 feet wide telescope. It sits in the Dawodang depression of the Guizhou Province and it achieved its first light in September 2016.

One of the main scientific missions of FAST is to listen out for pulsars and other interstellar radio signals—including any coming from hypothetical extraterrestrials. "In theory, if there is civilization in outer space, the radio signal it sends will be similar to the signal we can receive when a pulsar (spinning neutron star) is approaching us," Qian Lei, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told CCTV in 2016.

Many scientists looking for potentially habitable planets are focused on its composition (rocky), distance from its star (so liquid water can exist) and its atmosphere (that it has one). These are the requirements for life on Earth to exist—so may also be true of other planets.

But in their latest publication, FAST researchers from China and France said they are planning to look for exoplanets within 100 light years from Earth with magnetic fields.

To read more, click here.
Category: Science