By Yilin Du
China has completed and begun to operate the world’s largest radio telescope. The telescope, named Tianyan, meaning the eye of heaven, was built in Guizhou Province in southwestern China, and cost 1.2 billion yuan ($180 billion).
The dish of the telescope has an area of 2.1 million square feet, almost as large as 450 basketball courts, surpassing the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico as the largest single-dish radio telescope, with twice the sensitivity as the Arecibo observatory, and a reflector as large as 30 football fields, according to The Guardian.
China also completed an observation deck to allow tourists to visit the telescope.
Xinhua News reports that Chinese astronomers first proposed the 500-meter aperture spherical radio telescope in 1994. Construction, however, did not begin until 2011.
In a recent test of the telescope, a pulsar signal was received 1,351 light-years from Earth.
Professor Peng Bo, the deputy project manager of Tianyan, said, “The instrument was able to detect radio waves from three pulsars, which are rapidly rotating, extremely dense stars. They are a key scientific target for the team,” according to the BBC.
President Xi Jinping sent a note of congratulations to the workers, astronomers, and scientists involved in the project, writing that the telescope will help China make “major advances and breakthroughs at the frontier of science.”
According to The Guardian, Wu Xiangping, the director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society, said the telescope’s high degree of sensitivity “will help us to search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy.” Qian Lei, the associate researcher with the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the ultimate goal of Tianyan is “to discover the laws of the development of the universe.”
The project, however, also forced around 8,000 people to relocate. A radio silence within a 5-kilometer (3-mile) radius is required for the telescope to work. Many of these people did not want to move.
In a New York Times interview, Mr. Huang, a carpenter who lived in Moaping village, Guizhou, said, “I’ve lived here all my life. My ancestors arrived here in the Qing dynasty over 200 years ago.”