China dis­places thousands for world’s largest ra­dio tele­scope

The Myanmar Times - - World -

HU­MAN­ITY’S best bet at de­tect­ing aliens is a gi­ant sil­ver Chi­nese dish the size of 30 foot­ball fields – one that si­mul­ta­ne­ously show­cases Bei­jing’s abil­i­ties to de­ploy cut­ting-edge tech­nolo­gies and ig­nore ob­jec­tors’ ri ghts as it seeks global promi­nence.

The Five-hun­dred-me­tre Aper­ture Spher­i­cal Tele­scope (FAST) in the coun­try’s south­west, which was launched in Septem­ber and cost 1.2 bil­lion yuan (US$180 mil­lion) to build, is the largest ra­dio tele­scope in the world.

Once fully op­er­a­tional, FAST will be able to peer deeper into space than ever be­fore, ex­am­in­ing pul­sars, dark mat­ter and grav­i­ta­tional waves, and search­ing for signs of life.

Au­thor­i­ties also hope it will bring tourist dol­lars to the prov­ince of Guizhou, one of the poor­est re­gions in China.

But it comes at the cost of forcibly dis­plac­ing about 9000 vil­lagers who called the site in Pingtang county their home.

Many were out­raged at be­ing forced to leave the val­ley sur­rounded by forested karst hills and hun­dreds of fam­i­lies are now su­ing the gov­ern­ment, with some cases be­ing heard this week.

China built FAST as part of ef­forts to take on in­ter­na­tional ri­vals and raise its em­bar­rass­ingly low tally of No­bel Prizes, ex­plained Peng Bo, di­rec­tor of China’s Na­tional As­tro­nom­i­cal Ob­ser­va­to­ries, which over­sees the tele­scope.

The 500-me­tre-wide (1640 feet) dish dwarfs its near­est com­peti­tor, the United State’s Puerto Rico-based Arecibo tele­scope, which is only 305 me­tres across.

The world’s most pop­u­lous coun­try and sec­ond-largest econ­omy has so far only won one sci­en­tific No­bel, awarded last year to chemist Tu Youyou for medicine.

FAST’s re­ceivers are more sen­si­tive than any pre­vi­ous ra­dio-tele­scope, and its pi­o­neer­ing tech­nol­ogy can change the shape of the dish to track ce­les­tial ob­jects as the Earth re­volves around the sun.

It could cat­a­logue as many pul­sars in a year as had been found in the past 50, Mr Peng said. But he ac­knowl­edged that FAST will be over­taken by the larger Square Kilo­me­tre Ar­ray tele­scope in South Africa and Aus­tralia, which will be built over the next decade.

FAST needs a five kilo­me­tre-wide (three miles) “ra­dio si­lence” buf­fer zone around it with elec­tron­ics banned in or­der to re­duce in­ter­fer­ence with the sky’s much fainter fre­quen­cies.

Re­lo­cated res­i­dents would “en­joy bet­ter liv­ing stan­dards”, the of­fi­cial Xin­hua news agency said when the dish was com­pleted in July.

But vil­lagers al­lege land grabs with­out com­pen­sa­tion, forced de­mo­li­tions and un­law­ful de­ten­tions, and up to 500 fam­i­lies are su­ing the Pingtang county gov­ern­ment.

Meng Xi­u­jun, whose Elites Law Firm in the south­ern city of Guang

zhou is han­dling most of the cases, said of­fi­cials tried to in­tim­i­date him, telling him he should “see the big­ger pic­ture for a key na­tional project”.

But he told AFP: “This isn’t just a mat­ter of eco­nomic in­ter­ests –once you start ask­ing av­er­age cit­i­zens to kneel down or beat them, it be­comes about hu­man rights and prob­lems with China’s rule of law.” –

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