If the truth really is out there, then China wants to be the one that finds it, and they took a big step towards doing so yesterday by activating the world’s largest radio telescope.
Back in July, the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope or FAST (or apparently “China’s eye of heaven”) was finally completed in rural, mountainous Guizhou province. On Sunday, China’s newest technological toy went into operation, with the eventual goals of enhancing humankind’s understanding of the origin of the universe, finding extraterrestrial life, and maybe even earning China a Nobel Prize (or at least a Future Science Prize).
To mark the historic occasion, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory letter to all the scientists, engineers and workers involved with the project. Xi wrote that the colossal satellite will help China make “major breakthroughs at the frontiers of science” and help it to become a global science power, adding that China holds the intellectual property rights to the world’s biggest alien finder.
Still, officials have cautioned not to expect anything great from the FAST for at least a few years, while scientists run tests and fix bugs associated with the complex equipment.
Additionally, yesterday, a new regulation went into effect, requiring radio silence within a 10-kilometer radius of the facility. It also prohibits construction, hunting, logging and land reclamation in the immediate area, threatening a 100,000 yuan fine. Picture taking is apparently fine though.
Already, the Guizhou government has relocated nearly 10,000 residents living within a 3.1-mile radius of the telescope. The relocation plan became controversial because of its human cost, as well as the meager compensation offered to residents — 12,000 yuan each, which is barely half the annual salary in China. Locals have also complained that the new houses the government has built for them nearby are poorly-made.
The FAST project was introduced in 2007 and construction began in 2011. By July 2015, it was time to install the 4,450 reflective panels. In total, the whole thing cost 1.2 billion yuan. Here’s the incredible transition from mountainous wilderness to giant space telescope:
The 500-meter-wide dish is roughly the size of 30 football fields and dwarfs that of the 305-meter Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The larger the dish, the better the telescope can pick up weak signals from galaxies far, far away, state media has boasted that FAST can reach 11 billion light-years into space and could double the number of pulsars known to humans within a year of operation.
[Images via China News]