China Can’t Find Anyone to Operate Its Alien-Hunting Telescope

Even for a million-dollar salary.

Twitter/ People's Daily, China

China continues to up its game in space science, including one particularly ambitious project, the world’s largest radio telescope. There’s just one problem: they can’t find anyone to operate it.

The country’s government is looking to hire a foreigner as chief scientist to oversee the telescope’s daily operation, reports the South China Morning Post, and it’s even offering free housing and a $1.2 million salary to boot. But no one has been hired, presumably because of challenges associated with the job and the high level of requirements needed to even apply.

The “five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope,” or FAST, is a $180 million, 1,600-foot-long radio telescope that’s capable of receiving radio signals from as far as 1,000 light-years away, making it a leading instrument in the search for alien life. To give you an idea of its scale, FAST is roughly the size of 30 soccer fields.

In 2016, Breakthrough Initiatives — an organization founded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner to investigate extraterrestrials — partnered with China to get the telescope online, but despite such high-profile backing, nobody has come forward to fill this managerial role.

There are probably a couple of reasons why.

It's a really, really big telescope.

Getty Images

Although FAST was completed last year, the chief operator would be contending with some significant technical variables. Important components, such as the signal receiver and over 4,500 moveable reflection panels on the telescope’s dish, require extensive testing and calibration, according to South China Morning Post. A chief operator would likely have no time for their own research, working long and irregular hours, managing the telescope in its infant years. The project’s location may also seem less than ideal to some, as it’s nestled in the mountains of Guizhou, a very remote and undeveloped part of southwest China.

It’s become even more remote, in fact, because in February of 2016, the Chinese government evicted about 9,110 residents within a 3.1 mile radius of the telescope, claiming they could potentially mess with the electromagnetic wave environment, and offering a measly $1,822 in compensation. It was an unlikely occurrence, considering most (or possibly all) of the rural villagers wouldn’t have sophisticated technology at their disposal to actually do that. But anyway…

The candidate requirements are intense, too. The winning applicant must have 20 years of experience and must have held a leading role on a large-scale radio telescope project — because there are so many of those. The job also requires the successful applicant to have held a professorship or equally senior role at a highly respected research institute or university. Wang Tinggui, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Science and Technology of China, told South China Morning Post that it’s a tall order.

“These requirements are very high. It puts most astronomers out of the race. I may be able to count those qualified with my fingers,” he said.

“It is not a job for a scientist. It’s for a superhero.”

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