China has completed construction of the world’s largest radio telescope, which is due to begin operations in September, state media reported.
The Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) cost $180 million (£135 million), is 500m wide – the size of 30 football pitches – and has taken five years to build.
The telescope will assist in the search for extraterrestrial life, survey neutral hydrogen in distant galaxies, detect faint pulsars and improve the chances of detecting low frequency gravitational waves. From September it will be opened up to researchers across the world.
Zheng Xiaonian, deputy head of the National Astronomical Observation under the Chinese Academy Sciences, which built the telescope, told Xhinua news agency: "The project has the potential to search for more strange objects to better understand the origin of the universe and boost the global hunt for extraterrestrial life."
As many as 9,000 people living within a 5km radius of the telescope’s site in Pintang County, Guizhou will be relocated in an attempt to ensure radio silence in the area.
FAST is the latest in a series of initiatives designed to establish China as a leader in space exploration. The first module of the Chinese space station will be completed in 2018 and the government hopes to put a man on the moon by 2036.
The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico previously held the record for the world’s largest telescope, measuring 300m in diameter.
Story by: Oscar Williams