Radio telescopes like FAST collect incoming radio waves, instead of visible light. ”A radio telescope is like a sensitive ear, listening to tell meaningful radio messages from white noise in the universe,” Nan Rendong, chief scientist of FAST, told Xinhua last year. “It is like identifying the sound of cicadas in a thunderstorm.”

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), the branch of astronomy concerned with finding aliens, has so far been unsuccessful in doing so—though the universe is vast and we’ve only examined a tiny fraction of it. Perhaps China’s new telescope will find something.

According to Xinhua, FAST will be three times more sensitive than the Arecibo Observatory, allowing it to receive weaker and more distant radio signals. The project cost 1.2 billion yuan ($184 million).

China has displaced hundreds of thousands of its citizens in the last few years in order to build dams and other infrastructure programs. An estimated 1.5 million people were relocated in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

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