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The world’s largest radio telescope hasbegun operating in south-western China, a project Beijing says will helphumanity search for alien life.


The five-hundred-metre aperture sphericalradio telescope (acronym: Fast), nestled between hills in the mountainousregion of Guizhou, began working about noon on Sunday, the official newsagency, Xinhua, reported.



The telescope represents a leap forward forChina’s astronomical capabilities and will be one of several “world-class”telescope projects launched in the next decade, said Yan Jun, head of China’sNational Astronomical Observation (NAO), according to Xinhua.


In a test run before the launch, Fast haddetected electromagnetic waves emitted by a pulsar more than 1,300 light years away.


Earlier, Xinhua cited Wu Xiangping,director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society, as saying that thetelescope’s high degree of sensitivity “will help us to search for intelligentlife outside of the galaxy”.


Experts have been hunting for alienintelligence for six decades, pointing radio telescopes at stars in the hope ofdiscovering signals from other civilisations, but have not yet found anyevidence. Last month, a “strong signal” detected by a Russian telescopesearching for extraterrestrial signals stirred interest among scientists, butexperts said it was too early to make conclusions about its origin.


The new Fast telescope could “lead todiscoveries beyond our wildest imagination,” Douglas Vakoch, president of METI,a group seeking to send messages to space in search of alien life, told Xinhua.


Construction of Fast began in 2011, andlocal officials relocated nearly 10,000 people living within three miles (5km)to create a quieter environment for monitoring. Mobile phones in the area mustbe powered off to maintain radio silence.


In the past, China has relocated hundredsof thousands of people to make way for large infrastructure projects such asdams and canals.


The area surrounding the telescope isremote and relatively poor. State media said it was chosen because there are nomajor towns nearby.


The villagers will be compensated with cashor housing. The budget for relocation is 1.8bn yuan (£208m), it was reported;more than the cost of constructing the telescope. At the beginning of thismonth, reports said 600 apartments had been built so far with the funds.


China has poured money into big science andtechnology projects as it seeks to become a hi-tech leader, but despite somegains the country’s scientific output still lags behind.