China wants to find aliens, because why not? In order to find them, the country needs to build a really spectacular radio telescope — bigger than the Square Kilometer Array in Australia and South Africa, and bigger than Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory (currently the world’s largest radio telescope).
So in 2011, China decided to go for it and greenlight the FAST (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope) project over in the southwest of the Guizhou province’s. The new telescope will be a good 200 meters larger in diameter than Arecibo’s.
The only problem? The location they picked for their E.T.-hunting instrument was home to about 9,110 residents within a 3.1 mile radius. The Chinese government is forcibly relocating all of those citizens from their homes, offering a paltry $1,822 in compensation. Construction on FAST is expected to be finished by this September.
Why exactly do they need to kick out all of those people? Their homes aren’t located on the telescope’s property itself.
According to The Guardian, Li Yuecheng, a senior Communist Party official in Guizhou, said the relocations would help “create a sound electromagnetic wave environment.”
That makes sense if the residents were all avid techies operating some really sophisticated — and expensive — electronic equipment that could interfere with the telescope’s functionality. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here — these are rural villagers who lead fairly simple lifestyles. They’re not exactly operating a bunch of big radio equipment of their own.
Regardless, it doesn’t seem like the Chinese government wants to take any chances. FAST is a $110 million project, and if the investment pays off, China will get to make its claim as the country that first discovered alien life (among other major scientific research).
The FAST telescope is simply another symbol of China’s very aggressive push to become a powerhouse player in the world of science and tech research. Some of these projects are pretty bold and arguably worthy of investment, like the goal to build the world’s biggest supercollider. Others are batshit, like the plans to host the first-ever human head transplant.
This new announcement reaffirms the country is not shy of forcing its residents to cooperate with those scientific goals. Is evicting villagers worth the discovery of alien life? That may depend on whether FAST is successful or not.