China is to relocate more than 9,000 people to make way for the world’s largest radio telescope later this year – a move that Beijing hopes will boost the global hunt for extraterrestrial (alien) life and explore the origins of the universe.
Provincial officials have said they will evacuate 9,110 residents of Guizhou’s Pingtang and Luodian counties living within five kilometres of the listening device from their homes and will be resettled in four settlements by the end of September.
Li Yuecheng, a senior Communist party official in Guizhou, said the relocations, would help “create a sound electromagnetic wave environment.”
Each of the involved residents will get 12,000 yuan ($1,830) subsidy from the provincial reservoir and eco-migration bureau, and each involved ethnic minority household with housing difficulties will get 10,000 yuan subsidy from the provincial ethnic and religious committee.
The area surrounding the telescope is remote and relatively poor. It is said to have been chosen because there are no major towns nearby.
Construction of the 1.2 billion yuan (£127 million) ‘FAST’ (Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope) project has taken China more than five years to build, making it the biggest astronomy project China has ever had.
The project began in the south-western province of Guizhou in March 2011 and is expected to be completed by September.
Upon completion, the telescope will be the world’s largest of its kind, measuring 500 metres in diameter, which covers the size of 30 football pitches, overtaking Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory, which is 300 metres in diameter.
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FAST is made up of 4,450 triangular-shaped panels. Once the telescope is fully functional, those movable panels will be used to reflect radio signals from distant parts of the universe towards a 30-tonne retina capable of gathering them.
FAST’s sensitivity and resolution will allow an extremely comprehensive study of thousands of galaxies in different environments in the local universe.
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, says a senior scientist on the project.
Beijing sees this as the latest symbol of its growing technological prowess and a boost in astronomical investment. The telescope is intended as a pioneering scientific endeavor.
Beijing is accelerating its multi-billion-dollar space exploration programme, with plans for a permanent orbiting station by 2020 and eventually a manned mission to the moon.
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