The largest telescope known to man has removed 9,000 people from their homes in Guzihou province, in Southwest China. The 500-meter telescope is best known as FAST–Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope. China’s intent for the scope isn’t for astronomical purposes, but to pioneer extraterrestrial findings.
Originally proposed in 1993 as a competing concept for the international Square Kilometer Array project by Chinese Astronomers, FAST has been in production since 2011 and is expected to be completed this fall.
Bandee Halawani, a junior from University of Portland said, “Why the hell would anyone try to connect, [let] alone [try to] find aliens?”
To answer Halwani’s question, Li Di—chief scientist from the National Astronomical Observatories affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told China Daily, “Ultimately, exploring the unknown is the nature of mankind, which is as visceral as feeding and clothing ourselves. It drives us to a greater future.”
Candace Coleman, a former part-time student at Portland State commented on the topic, “I’m more curious as to how catching alien footage will help anything…and if we find out they exist, are we going to communicate with them?”
Indeed, communication is Chinese astronomer Shi Zhicheng’s hope, “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.”
Challenges face the use of the scope as the launch nears. Encompassing nearly 460,000 reflective mirrors, they must be placed exactly together. The room for error is slim, “A minute gap between the mirrors could cause significant signal distribution and render the entire project useless,” according to South China Morning Post.
In order for the telescope to focus on a specific object in space, the mirrors must be individually adjusted to create the best angle. To the dismay of the scientists involved, the technology to adjust and control the 10,000-ton scope has never been used nor tested.
Although the machine is meant to be finished by fall of 2016, improvements and updates will continue to take place years following completion in order for FAST to accurately report findings.
FAST is made up of 4,450 triangular-shaped panels. “The motion of the panels alters the collective shape of the antenna, which is capable of reflecting radio signals from the universe to a focal point, where the receiver dome sits.”
According to a report by Xinhua, Director-General of the Chinese Astronomical Society, Wu Xiangping, said “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.””
Each resident made to move for the project was compensated 2,000 yuan—equivalent to $1,838. Residents that have housing difficulties will be rewarded an additional 10,000 yuan ($1,530).
Coleman voiced her opinion on the moving of the Chinese residents, “The uprooting is ridiculous!” She said, “I can imagine this to be frustrating for them…”
Halawani had a similar reaction, “I think it’s pretty absurd to move that many people for a telescope radio; to find something we aren’t sure exists in the first place.” She said, “In my opinion [some things] are not meant to be found. If they aren’t bothering us, don’t bother them.”