China's new radio telescope, the world's largest, should be completed by September 2016. Image: FAST

China to Relocate Thousands for World’s Largest Radio Telescope

Published: 17 Feb , 2016

China is building the world’s largest radio telescope, and will have to move almost 10,000 people from the vicinity to guarantee the telescope’s effectiveness. The telescope, called the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), will be completed in September, 2016. At 500 meters in diameter, it will surpass the workhorse Arecibo radio observatory in Puerto Rico, which is 305 meters in diameter.

China has routinely moved large amounts of people to make room for developments like the Three Gorges Dam. But in this case, the people are being moved so that FAST can have a five kilometre radio-quiet buffer around it.

According to China’s news agency Xinhua, an unnamed official said the people are being moved so that the facility can have a “sound electromagnetic wave environment.” Common devices and equipment like microwave ovens, garage door openers, and of course, mobile phones, all create radio waves that FAST will sense and which can interfere with the telescope’s operation.

The telescope’s high level of sensitivity “will help us to search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy,” according to Wu Xiangping, director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society. But aside from searching for radio waves that could be from distant alien civilizations, like SETI does, the enormous dish will also to be used to study astronomical objects that emit radio signals, like galaxies, pulsars, quasars, and supernovae. The radio signals from these objects can tell us about their mass, and their distance from us. But the signals are very weak, so radio telescopes have to be huge to be effective.

Radio telescopes are also used to send out radio signals and bounce them off objects like asteroids and the other planets in our Solar System. These signals are detected by the telescope when they return to Earth, and used to create images.

Huge radio telescopes like FAST can only be built in certain places. They require a large, naturally dish-shaped area for construction. (Arecibo is built in a huge karst sinkhole in Puerto Rico.) Though FAST is in a fairly remote location, where there are no major cities or towns, there are still approximately 10,000 people who will have to be moved. Most of the people moved will be compensated to the tune of  $2500, with some receiving more than that.

The FAST facility is part of a concerted effort by China to be a dominant player in space study and exploration. The Chang e 3 mission to the Moon, with its unmanned lander and rover, showed China’s growing capabilities in space. China also plans to have its own space station, its own space weather station at LaGrange 1, and a mission to Mars by 2020, consisting of an orbiter and a rover.

Construction on FAST began in 2011, and will cost 1.2 billion yuan ($260 million) to build.




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10 Responses

  1. FarAwayLongAgo says:

    That’s dedication to science!
    As a contrast, on Hawaii the politicians inexplicably let a handful of uneducated aboriginals stop the construction of the world’s largest optical telescope. Does anyone here not understand where the future is, and where return to the stone age is?

  2. Hematite says:

    Why don’t Chinese just build it someplace like the Gobi Desert? No one, or very few people would be displaced. Perhaps the officials and big science guys may not want to live or even have to visit such a unfashionable locals.

    • BlackWolfStanding says:

      Welcome to Communism.

      • Forty says:

        One would expect more scientific educated folks on a scienceblog, who know about the needs for a place where such telescopes can be build and whre not.
        Hint: Gobi makes no sense. Like your post….

    • Richard Kirk says:

      Why didn’t the US build Arecibo in Utah? They picked a site that was bowl-shaped to make the telescope cheaper to build. Same here.

    • Tachyon says:

      Radio telescopes as well as optical telescopes work best in site specific locations.
      Optical instruments at high altitudes away from light pollution.
      Radio telescopes work best sheltered from RFI (radio frequency interference).
      The larger they are the less tolerant of ‘noise’.
      Large natural ‘radio valleys’ are the best locations to build them, they tend to shield much of the noise.
      It pretty much reduces down to the best area to build regardless whether one likes the location or not.
      This includes radio valleys, desserts, mountain tops, remote locations, etc.

  3. Matko says:

    Would it be possible to detect planet X in the outskirts of our solar system (wich is said to exist due to its impact on drarf planets) with this kind of technology (radio signals bounce) ?

    • Tachyon says:

      Might be a bit rough to do that.
      Planet X has not yet been detected. It is still only a theory although gravitational anomalies sort of point to it’s existence.
      However, there are a lots of astronomers still dis agree.

      Large radio telescopes are limited to what they can ‘see’ in the sky due to in ability to drive to a coordinate.
      They have to wait until a object comes into their field of view.
      Planet X would be a distant object. The radio transmitter would have to send out quite a powerful signal at high frequency (much like a radar) to get a decent signal back.
      Not impossible but quite chore to accomplish.

  4. sangos says:

    Headline should have been “Come September and SETI gets a boost” or something along the great science possibilities this telescope brings.
    Guess its China so the politics kicks in….

  5. UFOsMOTHER says:

    China is realy going for it while the USA make cuts. China will have a permanant base on the Moon along with the Russians next, lets just hope that ESA will carry the Flag i have little faith in NASA pulling through looks like the Pluto mission was the last Big One for them…

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