The world’s largest radio telescope is now operational. China hopes to use it to achieve “major advances and breakthroughs at the frontier of science,” said China’s President Xi Jinping. In particular, the Chinese hope to learn more about how galaxies evolve and perhaps find definitive proof of extraterrestrial life.
“This is very exciting,” said Professor Peng Bo, deputy project manager of the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST). “For many years, we have had to go outside of China to make observations—and now we have the largest telescope. People can’t wait to use it.”
The telescope, at 500 meters—or roughly a third of a mile – is massive. The largest radio telescope up until now pales in comparison at a diameter of 305 meters. FAST is made up of thousands of triangular panels, which can be adjusted and re-angled to study different parts of the sky.
For telescopes, size matters. They work by listening for radio waves produced by objects in outer space. Because of FAST’s size, it is able to hear signals from further away than has previously been possible.
The project was not without cost. The telescope’s construction cost an estimated $185 million. A small portion of that went to roughly 2,000 families in the Guizhou Province in southwest China who were displaced as a result of the telescope’s construction. The Chinese government cleared roughly 9,000 people within a three-mile radius of the telescope to “create a sound electromagnetic wave environment.”
Whether the resettlement was necessary remains in doubt. The technology needed to interface with FAST would have required the residents to be constantly using sophisticated
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