China is building the world’s largest radio telescope in rural, impoverished Pingtang County, a site selected after 17 years of evaluation. When completed, the 1,640-foot telescope will take the crown away from the fabled Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, it will also take away the homes of over 9,000 Chinese citizens.
The UK Daily Mail reports that residents of Pingtang County were told their presence would disrupt the sensitive instrument and were “asked” to relocate, with a subsidy of 12,000 yuan apiece (about $1850 U.S., at current exchange rates). As Chinese media outlets have been describing the initiative as an “evacuation,” there does not seem to be much latitude for the locals to refuse the offer.
CNN says an extra 10,000 yuan will be “made available to households from the province’s many ethnic minorities that experience housing difficulties,” a description that could fit well over half of the residents of the county.
“The new telescope is set to be involved in the search for extraterrestrial life. With its sensitive telescope, it can detect weaker radio signals,” writes the Daily Mail. This could mark the first time local citizens have been displaced for aliens from another planet.
China has poured over $185 million into the five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) project, which is scheduled to come online in September of 2016, to be followed by a space station in 2020, and a Chinese moon shot sometime after that.
“According to recent reports in Chinese state media, FAST is made up of 4,450 triangular-shaped panels. Once the telescope is fully functional, those movable panels will be used to reflect radio signals from distant parts of the universe towards a 30-ton retina capable of gathering them,” reports the UK Guardian.
“One of the scientists behind the project recently claimed that if the telescope was filled with wine, each of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants could fill about five bottles from it,” the Guardian adds. That sounds like the kind of factoid China ought to be broadcasting into space if they want aliens to swing by for a visit.
As with other outlets, the Guardian observes that “massive relocation projects have long been a Communist Party specialty,” adding that “those forced from their homes often complain of poor compensation.”
The Daily Mail quotes NASA’s chief scientist, Ellen Stofan, confidently predicting that “strong indications of life beyond Earth” will be detected by advanced radio telescopes within the next decade, and “definitive evidence” of alien life will be found in the next ten to twenty years.
“We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology,” said Stofan. The Chinese are spending a lot of money, and making demands from many of their citizens, in the race to find those extraterrestrials first.