If you’ve heard a politician or any of the old space establishment talk about America’s place in spaceflight, then you’ve probably heard threats of China taking away our space superiority. China still has a lot of work to do if they want to match America and Russia’s achievements, but it looks like human spaceflight isn’t the only area they’re putting effort into. Now China is serious about the business of finding Earth-like exoplanets, and they’re pretty confident that they’ll find what they’re looking for.
According to The Daily Galaxy, Chinese astronomers have recently set up shop in Antarctica in an effort to find the life-bearing jewels of the galaxy. They have set up the first of three Antarctic Survey Telescopes in a prime location at Dome Argus, the highest point on the whole continent. Director of the Chinese Center for Antarctic Astronomy, Wang Lifan, is extremely optimistic about their chances.
Antarctica has the best conditions on Earth for astronomical observation, as it has very flat ground, a transparent atmosphere and little turbulence. The ground-based telescopes here will bring us precious information from the universe. We will send people there to retrieve observation data next spring. I hope we can find some likely candidates. It’s hard to say precisely how many, but I hope there are no less than 10.
Lifan says that the Antarctic Survey Telescopes will primarily be looking at main sequence stars like our own sun, but they will also look at smaller stars as well. The other two telescopes will arrive in 2014 and 2015 to increase observational capability. Right now, the Chinese team is relying on Iridium satellite phones to relay data to and from the site, but they are considering building an onsite supercomputer to help with the analysis.
While politicians might use this as more evidence of a Chinese menace ready to control outer space, it really is evidence to the contrary. This purely scientific effort to find another world like our own costs enough to be prohibitive if China’s only ambition was the militarization of outer space. That’s not to say an alien-seeking mission in Antarctica with a Communist supercomputer at the helm wouldn’t make a great backdrop for a SyFy channel movie, but I don’t think we have to worry about Chinese mind-control rays just yet.