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China operates world's biggest radio telescope to discover 'laws of universe'

The 500-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) is seen on its first day of operation in Pingtang, in China's Guizhou province on September 25, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

World's largest radio telescope has become operational in southwestern China, with officials in Beijing saying that the project will help scientists search for alien life.

Since the early 1930s, when the first primitive radio telescopes began operating in an attempt to hunt for alien radio signals, astronomers have been busy sifting through the data collected from the immensity of the space to detect the faintest radio signals transmitted from a supposed alien civilization and to help the mankind feel, at last, that its loneliness in the incomprehensible universe is finally eased. The latest of such scientific endeavors is the world’s biggest radio telescope made by Chinese scientists and unveiled on Sunday.

The Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), measuring 500 meters in diameter, is erected in a scenic karst valley in Pingtang county, a mountainous area in the southeastern province of Guizhou in China.

The gigantic telescope, which took five years and devoured some $180 million to complete, clearly demonstrates China's growing ambitions in outer space explorations and its vigorous pursuit of global scientific prestige.  

The new Chinese telescope, whose massive dish is made of 4,450 panels, dwarfs the half-a-century old Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico as the world's largest single-dish radio telescope, since its sensitivity is twice as the old pal with a reflector as big as 30 football fields. The speed of FAST in surveying is also five to 10 times more than that of the Arecibo Observatory.

The 500-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) is seen at the final stage of construction, in the mountains in Pingtang county, Guizhou province, China. (Photo by Reuters)

“The ultimate goal of FAST is to discover the laws of the development of the universe,” said Qian Lei, an associate researcher with the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in remarks broadcast by state broadcaster CCTV on Sunday.

“In theory, if there is civilization in outer space, the radio signal it sends will be similar to the signal we can receive when a pulsar (spinning neutron star) is approaching us,” Qian added.

The huge Chinese cosmic ear requires a radio silence within a five-kilometer radius, therefore the 8,000 residents of the eight villages in the vicinity of the telescope site were forced to abandon their homes.

According to state media, the displaced villagers would be compensated, in the form of cash or new houses, from a budget of $269 million.

The CCTV report said that FAST managed to receive radio signals from a pulsar as far as 1,351 light years from the Earth during its recent test.

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