China's radio telescope will play key role in mankind's hunt to find life on other planets
If we discount links between reports of UFOs and aliens, they are either not out there or have not found us yet. The latter would not be surprising. For years, Nasa's Kepler Space Telescope has been on a similar mission without finding planets beyond our solar system that are hospitable to life as we know it.
That is until now. Astronomers looking for another earth have found what might be the closest match yet - a planet 1,400 light years away circling a sun-like star at the same distance the earth orbits the sun. They say the planet, Kepler 452b, or Earth 2.0 as they have dubbed it, is in the "Goldilocks zone" - neither too hot nor too cold to support life - and a "pretty good" close cousin to earth and our sun.
This will not come as a surprise to renowned British scientist Stephen Hawking. He said when Kepler was launched that the seemingly limitless numbers of galaxies and their sun-like stars in the universe made it mathematically rational to expect Kepler to show we may not be alone in the universe.
Among ordinary people, understandably, the possibilities of such discoveries arouse cautious scepticism.
There is no doubting though the scientific excitement as analysis comes through of photographs of the surface of the dwarf planet Pluto taken during this month's fly-past by Nasa's New Horizon unmanned probe, which offered unprecedented views from 450,000km. They show flowing nitrogen ice glaciers along with an unexpectedly thick layer of haze in the atmosphere. Expeditions such as these fill in the detail of known space as the frontier is pushed further outward.
If we are ever to make contact with aliens, China may play a key role through the largest radio telescope, designed to search for signs of life in distant worlds, nearing completion in southern Guizhou province. Nicknamed the Sky Eye, the Five-Hundred-Metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (Fast) is designed to capture extremely faint radio signals from more than 1,000 light years away. That is not quite the 1,400 light years to Kepler 452b, but our eyes and ears are closing in on the possibility of life on another planet.