China’s Giant Alien-Hunting Telescope

China is building the largest radio telescope on Earth. And the state is displacing over 9,000 individuals to do it.

As headlines like “China uproots 9,000 individuals for the enormous telescope in the hunt for extraterrestrial beings” indicate, people are justifiably upset about. It’s particularly outrageous, considering that these people are being paid a laughable pittance to move: 12,000 yuan. That’s just $1,800, and less than half the typical yearly wages in China.

Disturbing to be sure—but would people respond differently if it were a highway or a dam? This telescope is a distinct strain of public works improvement, on another scale. It won’t always repair China’s infamous traffic issues or keep the lights on in Shanghai. This telescope could help all the world to see the universe in a completely new manner.

The 1,640-foot-wide telescope is called FAST (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope), and it’s near twice the size of the next largest radio telescope, a similarly shaped contraption in Puerto Rico. Its 460,000 reflective mirrors will reflect radio signals emitted by the universe onto a 30-ton antenna, which could help us unlock all kinds of galactic secrets, including whether or not we’re really alone in the universe. The $184 million job is assumed to wrap up in September after five years of building.


But to make that occur, over 9,000 individuals will trade their houses for a modest amount of money. China is truly nefarious for development-induced displacement. Back in 2010, 300,000 residents were transferred to clear the way for the Three Gorges Dam. That looks like a paltry number of individuals compared the million-plus Chinese that have proceeded against their will for building for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Actually, since the ‘70s, over 40 million Chinese have been displaced as a result of various public works projects or infrastructure initiatives.

But this only isn’t any public works job. It’s one of the most challenging space research telescope jobs in history. The telescope is a lot more than simply some search for extraterrestrial beings. Last year, a Chinese astronomer told the South China Morning Post the telescope is constructed to get hardly perceptible radio transmissions that are more than 1,000 light years away. If there’s intelligent life out there, astronomer Shi Zhicheng said in July, then we could hear messages they left behind using FAST.

So FAST can help us analyze space at new, mind-blowing distances, and that’s many advantages beyond the off chance that we find life on other planets. As researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences reported when the telescope was still in the planning phases:

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As the most sensitive single-dish radio telescope, FAST would have the capacity to find more mega-masers and quantify the radial velocities of masers with higher precision. This may give more sensitive dynamics of their areas. FAST will raise the precision of time of arrival (ToA) measurements for pulsars. This will help in finding the stochastic gravitational wave background and in establishing an independent time standard based on the long-term stability of the turnings of a group of millisecond pulsars. FAST might also work as an extremely strong ground station for the future space missions

And don’t forget that NASA recently discovered the most Earth like planet ever uncovered and detected gravitational waves for the very first time. More strong and precise telescopes will certainly open the door to new discoveries.

Should the Chinese authorities treat the individuals displaced by this huge job better? Absolutely. But let’s also remember the fact that China’s attempts in developing its space technology won’t only help China learn more about the universe. It’ll help everyone.

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