China’s latest mega-project is a massive radio telescope that the country hopes will further many scientific endeavors including the hunt for extraterrestrial life. While alien enthusiasts are certainly ecstatic about the project, an estimated 9,000 Chinese people are not as happy as the country is “evacuating” them to make room for their shiny new telescope.
The Guardian reported on Feb. 17 that work began on the FAST (Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope) project in 2011 and is expected to be finished by September. The 1,640-foot-wide telescope is being built from reflective mirrors and is estimated to cost $184 million.
Compared to the massive amount of money spent on the FAST, the 9,110 residents of Guizhou’s Pingtang and Luodian counties will only be getting about $1,800 as a “compensation” for having to move out of their homes to make room for the government’s new toy. According to Li Yuecheng, a senior Communist party official in Guizhou, moving the residents out of the three-and-a-half radius of the project will help “create a sound electromagnetic wave environment.”
For many in Beijing, the new 1,640-foot-wide telescope is an important technological status symbol for China. Dwarfing the current largest telescope, the 984-foot-wide Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, FAST is a truly massive project. A scientist working on the project claimed that if the entire structure was filled with wine, each of the planet’s 7 billion inhabitants would be able to fill nearly five bottles from it.
The China Daily newspaper reported that the device is made of 4,450 triangular-shaped panels. Once the telescope is functional, those panels, which are moveable, will redirect signals from all over the universe towards the massive retina at the center of the device.
“A radio telescope is like a sensitive ear, listening to tell meaningful radio messages from white noise in the universe. It is like identifying the sound of cicadas in a thunderstorm,” said Nan Rendong, a senior scientist on the project.
Overall, Chinese scientists appear to be very confident about the capabilities of the project. Shi Zhicheng, a Chinese astronomer, told the South China Morning Post last year that the project was a significant milestone in the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life. “If intelligent aliens exist, the messages that they produced or left behind, if they are being transmitted through space, can be detected and received by Fast,” said Shi.