Nine thousand residents within 5km radius of a new 500m diameter radio telescope in an isolated area of China are to be relocated, and offered £1,275 in compensation, to help “create a sound electromagnetic wave environment” – to minimise interference. For comparison the Lovell is 76m diameter.
Beijing hopes that the world’s largest dish, set in a hollow, will boost the global hunt for extra-terrestrial life.
China is to relocate more than 9,000 people before the unveiling of the world’s largest radio telescope later this year – a move that Beijing hopes will boost the global hunt for extraterrestrial life.
Work on the 1.2bn yuan (£127m) Fast (Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope) project began in the south-western province of Guizhou in 2011 and is expected to be completed by September.
Before then 9,110 residents of Guizhou’s Pingtang and Luodian counties will be “evacuated” from their homes, the Xinhua news agency announced on Tuesday. Each will receive 12,000 yuan (£1,275) in compensation from the government’s eco-migration bureau, Xinhua added.
Li Yuecheng, a senior Communist party official in Guizhou, said the relocations, from an area within a 5km radius of the project, would help “create a sound electromagnetic wave environment”.
Beijing sees its 500 metre-diameter telescope, which will dwarf the 300 metre-diameter Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, as the latest symbol of its growing technological prowess.
One of the scientists behind the project recently claimed that if the telescope was filled with wine, each of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants could fill about five bottles from it.
But the telescope is intended as a pioneering scientific endeavour, not a super-sized decanter. According to recent reports in Chinese state media, 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, the China Daily newspaper reported during tests last November.
In an interview last year, Nan Rendong, a senior scientist on the project, said: “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.”
Wu Xiangping, the director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society, told Xinhua that Fast’s high level of sensitivity would help scientists to “search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy and explore the origins of the universe”.
Last year Shi Zhicheng, a Chinese astronomer, told the South China Morning Post that the telescope represented a giant leap in the hunt for alien life. “If intelligent aliens exist, the messages that they produced or left behind, if they are being transmitted through space, can be detected and received by Fast,” Shi said.
Chinese officials say the telescope’s location in Qiannan, an isolated region deep in Guizhou’s spectacular Karst mountains, is the ideal place to detect possible extraterrestrial messages.
Li Di, a scientist from the Chinese Academy Of Sciences, said Fast would allow Beijing to “explore deeper into space and look at asteroids and even Mars”. He told China’s state broadcaster CCTV last year: “It will give China an opportunity to conduct frontier research.”
In an editorial celebrating China’s scientific triumph last July, the South China Morning Post boasted: “If we are ever to make contact with aliens, China may play a key role … our eyes and ears are closing in on the possibility of life on another planet.”
Massive relocation projects have long been a Communist party speciality. Millions of Chinese citizens have been displaced in recent decades to make way for hydro-electric dams and other infrastructure projects or as part of “poverty alleviation” schemes. Those forced from their homes often complain of poor compensation.