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Chinese telescope could detect extraterrestrial life
01:27 - Source: CNN

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China says it will move 9,110 residents for giant telescope

Radio telescope will be the world's largest when operational

FAST telescope will help in search for alien life

Hong Kong CNN  — 

China’s ambitious search for alien life comes with a human cost.

Authorities plan to uproot 9,110 residents to make way for the world’s largest radio telescope, the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reports.

The massive engineering and scientific project will allow researchers to detect radio signals from as far as tens of billions of light years away, potentially taking us one step closer in our quest to discover if we are truly alone in the universe.

Xinhua said it would relocate residents within five kilometers of the $185-million project, which is expected to be completed in September and nestled in a natural indentation in Guizhou province’s spectacular karst mountains.

Each resident will get 12,000 yuan ($1,838) in compensation.

An extra 10,000 yuan will be made available to households from the province’s many ethnic minorities that experience housing difficulties.

Li Yuecheng, a senior provincial Communist Party official, said the resettlement would “create a sound electromagnetic wave environment.”

China is no stranger to massive relocations for public projects. Some 1.2 million people were resettled to make way for the Three Gorges Dam.


The telescope – when completed the dish itself will be the size of 30 football pitches – has the potential to be a game-changer for our understanding of the universe, and our search for life on other planets.

When it is finished it will potentially be able to detect radio signals – and potentially, signs of life – from planets orbiting a million stars and solar systems.

The remoteness of the location – meaning minimal interference from other radio signals – and the region’s topography make it an ideal site for a telescope of this kind.

When operational, it will surpass the current largest radio telescope, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which has a diameter of 305 meters.

Nan Rendong, chief scientist of the FAST project, told Xinhua last year that the huge dish will enable much more accurate detection.

“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,” he said.

READ: China: The next space superpower?

A side-by-side comparison of Kepler 452-b and Earth (artist's conception).

Advancing astronomy

Its unprecedented precision will allow astronomers to survey the Milky Way and other galaxies and detect faint pulsars, and the array might also work as a powerful ground station for future space missions.

And, of course, it will advance the search for extraterrestrial signs of life.

In July 2015, when NASA discovered an ‘earth-like’ planet named Kepler-452b there was understandable excitement.

It was in the so-called ‘Goldilocks zone’ – the right distance from its sun to support an atmosphere and liquid water.

But detecting radio signals – signs of life – from the planet is beyond the means of our current instruments. But not for FAST.

Wu Xiangping, director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society, was bullish about its capabilities. “It will help us to search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy and explore the origins of the universe,” he told state media

The current largest single-dish radio telescope, the Arecibo Observatory, Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

MORE: China to explore ‘dark side’ of the moon

Great leap forward

China’s space program has come along in leaps and bounds.

In 2003, it became the third nation to put a human into orbit, and since then, Chinese astronauts have walked in space, launched an orbital space lab and sent a lunar probe to the moon.

China is also building a heavy-lift rocket, planning a robotic mission to Mars and constructing a 60-ton space station.