China Removing Thousands From Homes to Hunt for Aliens
The world's largest radio telescope is almost finished
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 16, 2016 4:48 PM CST
Updated Feb 20, 2016 3:30 PM CST
China's soon-to-be-completed FAST radio telescope will dwarf the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, shown here. The Chinese government is forcing more than 9,000 people from their homes to make room...   (AP Photo/Seth Shostak, SETI Institute)

(Newser) – In what would make for a decent episode of The X-Files, the Chinese government is forcing more than 9,000 residents from their homes in order to better search for alien life in the cosmos. China started work on FAST—the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope—back in 2011, Xinhua reports. It's scheduled to be completed this September. But first 9,110 residents living within three miles of the project need to be relocated in order to—in the words of one Chinese official—"create a sound electromagnetic wave environment." According to the Guardian, such relocations are a "Communist Party specialty," with millions having been moved in recent decades to make room for infrastructure projects. Relocated residents will receive a little more than $1,800 each for their trouble.

Once complete, FAST will be the largest radio telescope in the world—200 meters greater in diameter than the current biggest in Puerto Rico. One scientist on the project explained its size in terms of wine, for some reason, stating that if FAST were filled with wine, all 7 billion people on Earth could each fill five bottles from it. The Chinese government hopes to use the telescope to look for signs of extraterrestrial life and study the origins of the universe. Its size will make a difficult job slightly easier. "A radio telescope is like a sensitive ear, listening to tell meaningful radio messages from white noise in the universe," the Guardian quotes a FAST scientist as saying. "It is like identifying the sound of cicadas in a thunderstorm.” Time reports FAST will cost $180 million. (Maybe we can't find aliens because they don't evolve quickly enough.)