Eye of Heaven

The telescope, nicknamed the “Eye of Heaven,” has started its grand search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Beijing has launched a multifaceted military-backed space program to explore the final frontier.

China on Sunday commenced operations at the world’s largest radio telescope, marking the beginning of a project that Beijing says will help humanity search for extraterrestrial life.

The “Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope” (FAST) cost 1.2 billion yuan ($180 million, 160 million euros) and took five years to complete.

“The ultimate goal of FAST is to discover the laws of the development of the universe,” Qian Lei, a researcher with the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told China’s international state broadcaster CCTV.

“In theory, if there is civilization in outer space, the radio signal it sends will be similar to the signal we can receive when a pulsar (spinning neutron star) is approaching us,” Qian added.

‘Eye of heaven’

The new telescope, nicknamed “Eye of Heaven,” dwarfs Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory with a reflector as large as 30 football fields, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency.

It also has double the sensitivity of the Arecibo telescope and five to 10 times the surveying speed, Xinhua added.

FAST requires radio silence within a 5-kilometer (3-mile) radius, which led authorities to relocate nearly 10,000 people in eight villages in the vicinity.

Those displaced by the project are expected to be compensated with cash or new homes from a state poverty relief fund. The available funds amount to $269 million (240 million euros).

Earlier in September, China launched the Tiangong 2, a space station that forms the latest step in the country’s military-backed program to send a mission to Mars in the near future.