Matthew McConaughey‘s character spends a lot of Interstellar denouncing our attachment to earth, incapable of understanding how we don’t spend more time exploring what’s beyond. Now it seems that China, too, is turning its collective toward the sky, as the world’s most populated country is displacing 9,100 people so they can build the world’s largest radio telescope—to look for aliens (pretty much).
Chinese astronomers first proposed the 1.2 billion yuan ($184 million) FAST (Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope) project way back in 1993. Construction began in 2011 in Guizhan province, and the telescope’s completion is expected this September. When it’s fully functional, 4,450 triangular-shaped panels will collect radio waves and gather them into a single, 30-ton retina cable—according to China Daily.
The 9,100 people are being relocated to accommodate the space needed to “create a sound electromagnetic wave environment,” said Li Yuecheng, a senior Communist party official in Guizhan. Like McConaughey, it seems that China is prioritizing the unknown over the known. “Ultimately, exploring the unknown is the nature of mankind,” scientist Li Di told China Daily, “which is as visceral as feeding and clothing ourselves.” It’s unlikely that all those displaced—each compensated with 12,000 yuan ($1,820 US)—feel the same way.
Still, the prospect of finding alien life is always tantalizing. The FAST behemoth will cover twice as much sky as Puerto Rico’s Arecibo—currently the world’s largest single-aperture telescope—and Li Di says it will have “three to five times higher sensitivity.”
Another Chinese astronomer, Shi Zhicheng, told the South China Morning Post last year that Fast is capable of tracking alien activity in space—if indeed there is any to be tracked. “If intelligent aliens exist, the messages that they produced or left behind, if they are being transmitted through space, can be detected and received by FAST.”
Stephen Hawking thinks it’s a terrible idea for us to look for other intelligent life because, if they’re more developed than we are they’ll probably kill us and mine the earth for precious minerals. (Hasn’t anyone seen Avatar?) Whatever, if Matthew McConaughey thinks it’s a good idea, I’m in. We can always just rely on our future selves to build us a wormhole.
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HT: The Guardian
IMAGE: Nathanial Burton-Bradford