The last of the 4,450 panels that make up the telescope’s reflector, which is some 30 football fields in size, was hoisted into position Sunday morning, according to a press release from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, is located in the country’s southwestern province of Guizhou. Its completion comes just months after authorities announced plans to relocate 9,110 people from their homes to make way for the giant.
“As the world’s largest single aperture telescope located at an extremely radio-quiet site, its scientific impact on astronomy will be extraordinary, and it will certainlyrevolutionize other areas of the natural sciences,” Nan Rendong, the project’s chief scientist, told China’s state-owned Xinhua News Agency.
Unlike optical telescopes, which gather and focus light, radio telescopes detect radio frequencies, including those from pulsars, or rotating neutron stars, and active galaxies. With a diameter of about 1,640 feet, FAST dwarfs Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the previous record holder with a diameter of about 1,000 feet.
Tim O’Brien, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, told New Scientist that the telescope’s size is key to its potential impact on scientific exploration.
FAST will allow astronomers to “survey hydrogen in very distant galaxies, detect molecules in space, search for natural radio wave emissions from planets orbiting other stars and help in the search for radio signals” from alien civilizations, O’Brien told the publication.
Construction work on FAST began in 2011, and operations are expected to start in September.
“FAST’s potential to discover an alien civilization will be 5 to 10 times that of current equipment, as it can see farther and darker planets,” Peng Bo, of the National Astronomical Observation, told Xinhua.
If E.T. phones home, FAST will be listening.