Would you move out of your house just so your government could listen for aliens? Would you do it for $1,837? Over 9,000 people in China have been given just such an offer they can’t refuse – they must move out of their homes with $1,837 in compensation so China can build the world’s largest radio telescope.
The ET hunter and people displacer in question is the $184 million Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) being built in the southwestern province of Guizhou. Construction actually began in 2011 and it’s scheduled to be finished in September 2016. The people being forced to move are currently living within a 3.1-mile radius of the site. It’s unclear whether they’re being relocated for their own safety or for the safety of the telescope, which could be affected by cell phones, microwave ovens, garage door openers and other electronic devices that these poor people in this remote area probably don’t have but will now be able to buy with their $1,837.
At 500 meters in diameter, FAST will be considerably larger than the current largest radio telescope, the 300 meter Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The circular framework is up and workers are now installing 4,450 reflector units in the shape of equilateral triangles measuring 11 meters per side. Unlike the Arecibo Observatory which is fixed, FAST will utilize active optics. Each panel can be moved to new positions with a 1mm degree of accuracy and up to 40 degrees from the center. Once the panels are in place, something called a feed cabin structure will sit on top of them and move over them. The entire structure is in a natural valley that will draw rainwater away from it.
While details of the physical structure and construction progress are available, there doesn’t seem to be much on the specifications of the FAST. Li Di, the chief scientist of the National Astronomical Observatories Chinese Academy of Sciences, was willing to say this much:
FAST will remain the best in the world in the next twenty to thirty years after it is completed. FAST can answer questions not only limited to astronomy but questions about humanity and nature. The scientific potential of this telescope is hard to predict.
If they find aliens, let’s hope they get treated better than the people who had to move out for them.