The construction of the world’s largest telescope, made in Pingtang County, southwest of China’s Guizhou Province, has just been completed.
The 500 meters high Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, that took some five years to complete, costs $180M. Initially, its plans and location reconnaissance began way back in 1994.
Its massive reflector, composed of 4,450 panels covers the exact area as 30 football fields.
It will become operational in September and will be used to search for extraterrestrial life, but don’t expect to hear about FAST aiding in major discoveries right away.
Over the next two to three years, the telescope will be subject to adjustments and used for early-stage research by scientists in China. It will then become available to researchers across the globe to use.
Scientists will now start debugging and trials of the telescope, Zheng Xiaonian, deputy head of the National Astronomical Observation under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which built the largest telescope, told the official Xinhua news agency.
“The project has the potential to search for more strange objects to better understand the origin of the universe and boost the global hunt for extraterrestrial life,” the report paraphrased Zheng as saying.
According to Xinhua News, FAST will aid in detecting pulsars, gravitational waves and eventually amino acids, which would confirm life on other planets.
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) July 2, 2016
The telescope is much bigger than the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which was previously regarded as the world’s largest at around 300m in diameter.
In order to ensure total radio silence within a five-kilometer radius around FAST, more than 9,000 people will be moved out of the area surrounding the telescope and resettled in neighboring counties by September.
Advancing China’s space program is a priority for Beijing, with President Xi Jinping calling for the country to establish itself as a space power.
China’s ambitions include putting a man on the moon by 2036 and building a space station, work on which has already begun.
China insists its program is for peaceful purposes, but the U.S. Defense Department has highlighted China’s increasing space capabilities, saying it is pursuing activities aimed to prevent adversaries from using space-based assets in a crisis.