Monday, 10 October 2016

China's Giant Alien-Hunting Radio Telescope

China is building the biggest radio telescope on Earth. And the state is displacing over 9,000 people to do it.

As headlines like “China uproots 9,000 individuals for the tremendous telescope in the hunt for extraterrestrial beings” suggest, people are justifiably upset about. It’s especially outrageous, considering that these people are being paid a laughable pittance to move: 12,000 yuan. That’s only $1,800, and less than half the typical annual wages in China.

Disturbing to be sure—but would people react differently if it were a highway or a dam? This telescope is a distinct form of public works advancement, on another scale. It won’t consistently fix China’s infamous traffic problems or keep the lights on in Shanghai. This telescope could help all the world to see the universe in a totally new style.

The 1,640-foot-wide telescope is called FAST (Five hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope), and it’s close twice the size of the next largest radio telescope, a similarly shaped contraption in Puerto Rico. Its 460,000 reflective mirrors will reflect radio signals emitted by the universe onto a 30-ton antenna, which could help us unlock all kinds of galactic secrets, including whether or not we’re actually alone in the universe. The $184 million job is assumed to wrap up in September after five years of building.

But to make that occur, over 9,000 individuals will trade their houses for a moderate amount of money. China is actually nefarious for development-induced displacement. Back in 2010, 300,000 residents were transferred to clear the way for the Three Gorges Dam. That looks like a paltry variety of individuals compared the million-plus Chinese that have continued against their will for building for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Really, since the ‘70s, over 40 million Chinese have been displaced as an outcome of various public works projects or infrastructure initiatives.

But this merely isn’t any public works job. It’s one of the most ambitious space research telescope jobs in history. The telescope is a lot more than just some search for extraterrestrial beings. Last year, a Chinese astronomer told the South China Morning Post the telescope is assembled to get hardly perceptible radio transmissions that are more than 1,000 light years away. If there’s intelligent life out there, astronomer Shi Zhicheng said in July, then we could hear messages they left behind using FAST.

So FAST can help us assess space at new, mind blowing distances, and that is many advantages beyond the off chance that we find life on other planets. As researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences reported when the telescope was still in the planning periods:

As the most sensitive single-dish radio telescope, FAST would have the ability to find more mega-masers and quantify the radial velocities of masers with higher precision. This may give more sensitive dynamics of their areas. FAST will raise the preciseness of time of arrival (ToA) measurements for pulsars. This will help in discovering the stochastic gravitational wave background and in creating an independent time standard based on the longterm stability of the turnings of a group of millisecond pulsars. FAST might also work as an extremely powerful ground station for the future space missions

And don’t forget that NASA recently found the most Earth like planet ever uncovered and detected gravitational waves for the very first time. More powerful and exact telescopes will definitely open the door to new discoveries.

Should the Chinese authorities treat the people displaced by this huge job better? Absolutely. But let’s also remember the fact that China’s attempts in developing its space technology won’t just help China learn more about the universe. It’ll help everyone.

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