Extraterrestrial life could soon join gunpowder and papermaking on the list of great Chinese discoveries. According to Xinhua, the final piece was on Sunday fitted on FAST—the Five-hundred-meter-wide Aperture Spherical Telescope, which happens to be the size of 30 football fields. The installation in Guizhou province in southwest China now has months of tests and debugging ahead before it enters service as the world's largest radio telescope in September, taking the title from the 300-meter Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the BBC reports. Chinese authorities expect the $185 million telescope, which has been under construction since 2011, to lead the global search for aliens and unusual space objects for as many as 20 years to come.
"The telescope is of great significance for humans to explore the universe and extraterrestrial civilizations," science fiction writer Liu Cixin told Xinhua after the final panel was fitted on Sunday. "I hope scientists can make epoch-making discoveries." The telescope will be reserved for Chinese scientists for the next two to three years, after which it will be opened up to researchers worldwide, reports the Christian Science Monitor, which notes that China's investment is part of a major stepping up of the search for alien life. The US Defense Department has expressed misgivings about China's broader space ambitions, which include plans to put a person on the moon by 2036, Reuters reports. (More than 9,000 villagers are being evicted because of the project.)