In Guiyang, the world’s largest radio telescope is taking astronomy—and the local economy—rapidly into the future
It takes at least five hours’ hard driving from Guiyang, plus a vehicle change if using public transport, to reach the place many now call “the future of astronomy.”
Kedu has a population of around 30,000, and around 10 percent are on the poverty line; the rest are mostly rice and corn farmers, making an average 8,000 USD per capita. It is also home to the 185 million USD, Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope—known as FAST, and nicknamed “the Eye of Heaven.” Currently the world’s largest radio telescope, FAST nestles inside a vast natural karst depression in remotest southern Guizhou province, silently searching for signs of extraterrestrial activity.
The huge diameter—200 meters wider than the previous record-holder, Puerto Rico’s 300-meter Arecibo Observatory (though its maximum illuminated aperture is only 30 meters larger)—isn’t simply a matter of bragging rights: The bigger the dish, the more gravitational waves it can collect; the fainter their signals, the further back in time they go: 13.7 billion light years, to be precise. FAST has 4,450 panels, double the Arecibo, and, as one scientist put it, if “filled with wine, each of the world’s seven billion inhabitants could fill about five bottles from it.” With this vast astronomical receptacle, researchers hope to explore the deepest secrets of space and, perhaps, answer the most pressing question of all: Are we alone in the universe?
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