Many of the countries of the world are experimenting with different ways to find out more about the Universe, especially the possibility of finding intelligent life outside of our planet. China has been a large contributor to this extra-terrestrial search, and the country has recently unveiled their next step in learning more about the infinite nature of the Universe. They have done this by launching a 500m Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), which has now become the largest in the world. Approximately the size of 30 football fields, FAST took five years to be built and launched. The single dish telescope has been nicknamed the Tianyan, or Eye of Heaven, because it is expected to be able to capture a great deal more of what happens outside of our atmosphere than we have previously been aware of.
The telescope’s installation has required many changes in the surrounding area. Under the watchful eye of its rivals, the Chinese government had to find an area with at least a three mile radius of radio silence for the telescope to work. After locating the perfect spot in Guizhou, part of the country’s south-west province, they realized that in excess of 8000 villagers would need to be relocated. The total cost of the project included $269 million for moving its citizens, and another $180 million to build the telescope.
China sees the giant telescope as worth the time, effort and finances that were involved in completing the project, as it will now be able to monitor two to three times more of the area around our planet than previous telescopes. This is a result of its specific design of 4450 eleven meter panels that reflect radio waves, to a 30 ton ‘retina’ which is suspended in the middle of the unit. The telescope will then be monitored so that these signals can be interpreted. This makes FAST five to ten times more likely to discover signs of an alien race, than previous telescopes would have been able to.
Apart from the possibility of other life forms, the Universe has many mysteries such as dark matter and the early stages of its development, which the Chinese believe that FAST will be able to help us gain a greater understanding of. In addition, the telescope is able to capture images that are further away from earth including the layout and terrain of darker planets. After the initial testing period, China has agreed that scientists from other nations will be able to use the Eye of Heaven in their research, in an effort to gain as much knowledge as possible.