With no planned moon landing since 1972 and NASA receiving only a total of around 0.5 percent of the U.S. Federal Budget in the past couple of years, space research of any kind has not exactly been a priority for most western countries.
This is not a case with China, though. In the world’s most populous country, the world’s biggest radio telescope bearing the name, the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (but his friends call him FAST), is about to open. Construction started in 2011 and is scheduled to wrap up in September 2016. The whole project costs China a total of 1.2 billion RMB, or about 184 million USD. That is more than ten times the yearly allowance money of NASA.
Besides the costs and the size of the telescope, its purpose is also impressive: China intends to use the project in the service of finding extraterrestrial life. Since it will be able to scan a huge part of the sky (40 degrees from the zenith) and will be capable of receiving signals from seven billion light years away, one could perhaps say this ambitious goal is not as crazy as it seems to be.
Still, there is only so far we can see into outer space, that is – as Carl Sagan once so insightfully observed – “a pretty big place” with a size and an age “beyond ordinary human understanding.” If there are aliens out there, tracking only a slightly bigger fraction of the cosmos than we were able to before definitely makes the success of the project, at least, doubtful. Besides the low chances of aliens living in that area, there is also a problem with the actual radio waves we might receive. This is because the billions of years it would take even radio waves to arrive from deep space to us are more than enough for the sender civilization to completely die out before we even receive their messages. These concerns make the costs of the FAST project – especially the human costs – questionable.
But what are these human costs exactly? Two weeks ago, the Chinese government announced that it would relocate 9110 residents who live within three miles of the telescope, that is located in Pingtang and Luodian Counties in Guizhou province. Moving people from the area will create “a sound electromagnetic wave environment,” said Xinhua, the governmental new agency. The relocated residents will get a compensation equalling almost 1800 USD, but it is questionable (just like in the dozens of similar cases of mass relocation in China), whether they will be able to start their lives anew once they arrive at their designated places of settlement.
Only time will tell whether there was an essential sacrifice for the sake of establishing contact, or a pointless one for enabling the construction of humanity’s biggest cereal bowl ever made.Sources: