China is displacing 9,000 people to make room for a humongous, alien-hunting telescope

FAST will be the biggest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world.
FAST will be the biggest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world.
Image: YouTube screenshot/CCTV+
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To find aliens, China has decided to uproot over 9,000 humans.

Last year, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that construction was nearly complete on the 500-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), a massive radio telescope designed to survey the sky for signs of extraterrestrial life. Today (Feb. 16), Xinhua reported the Chinese government will relocate 9,110 residents who live within 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) of the FAST site in the southwestern province of Guizhou.

Residents will each be given 12,000 yuan ($1,840) for their trouble. Li Yuecheng, a Communist Party official in Guizhou, told Xinhua that the residents need to be moved in order to “create a sound electromagnetic wave environment” for the telescope.

Construction on FAST, which can fit 30 football fields inside of it, began in 2011 and is expected to finish sometime this year. FAST will be almost twice as long in diameter as Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory, currently the largest radio telescope in the world.

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.