The world's biggest telescope is now scanning the skies from a remote area in southwest China. The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope—or FAST, which takes the title of world's biggest telescope from the 300-meter Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico—officially opened on Sunday and will now commence what could be three years of testing and calibration, NPR reports. The 4,450-panel telescope is designed to detect radio waves emitted from distant galaxies as well as extraterrestrial life, and the discoveries have already begun: Xinhua reports that the telescope detected a pulsar 1,351 light years away during a recent trial observation.
The project was completed in five years at the cost of $180 million—plus the displacement of an estimated 9,000 villagers—and the AP notes that it could pay for itself: Tourist facilities including an observation deck have been completed on a nearby mountain in Guizhou province. The project is seen as a massive boost to China's scientific prestige, though the country's scientists will be collaborating with researchers worldwide, including scientists from the alien-hunting SETI Institute in the US, reports the New York Times, which notes that Xi Jinping could now become the first world leader to send greetings to beings on another planet. (China may have lost control of its falling space lab.)