Over the past 25 years, numerous events of largely human provenance have displaced Chinese citizens by the thousands, even millions: highway construction, the creation of hydroelectric dams, the development of new housing in rural areas, urban renewal projects, the Olympics, Disneyland.

Now we can add the building of massive, alien-tracking radio telescope to the list.

That's right. China’s pursuit of extraterrestrial life forms (among other things) has prompted the displacement of over 9,110 human life forms — 2,029 families residing within Pingtang and Luodian counties in the southwestern Guizhou province to be exact.

Each individual forced to relocate from their longtime home will receive the equivalent of $1,800 from the Chinese government for their not-so-insignificant trouble.

The fact that China is building the world’s largest radio telescope, the Five Hundred Meter Aperture Telescope (FAST), isn’t exactly breaking news. The 1.2 billion yuan ($184 million) behemoth built into a natural rock depression has been under construction since 2011, having been first proposed in 1994 and green-lit by the National Development and Reform Commission in 2007. When completed — construction is due to wrap later this year — FAST will unseat Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico from its decades-long reign as the world’s largest telescope at 300 meters, or 1,000 feet, in diameter. FAST, by comparison, will measure 600 meters in diameter — a record-breaking 1,640 feet.

What is new is an announcement by state news agency Xinhua that the construction of FAST will also require over 9,000 people living within 3 miles of the installation to “evacuate” in order to foster a “sound electromagnetic wave environment" around the telescope that's free of cell phones, microwaves and the like.

Use of the telescope, composed of 4,450 triangular moving panels and three times more sensitive than the mighty Arecibo Observatory, as an extraterrestrial-surveying device is also somewhat of a new development, although the whole “alien thing” has been increasingly played-up in recent months in the Chinese media.

“If we are ever to make contact with aliens, China may play a key role through the largest radio telescope, designed to search for signs of life in distant worlds …” mused an editorial published in the South China Morning Post this past July.

Aliens aside, the New York Times reports that the primary function of FAST, which can detect radio signals billions of light-years away, is incredibly impressive:

Some official Chinese news reports about the project have emphasized the search for alien life, but the telescope’s main scientific work will be somewhat less romantic, gathering large amounts of new data on a wide range of physical phenomena in space including pulsars, galaxies, black holes and gas clouds.

If the truth is out there, some Chinese scientists are confident that the giant telescope will find it. For decades, professional and amateur scientists have combed the data gathered by the largest currently operational radio telescope in the world, the 53-year-old Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, hoping to find traces of intelligent life that, like mankind, may be advertising its existence to the universe through radio emissions. But they have yet to find any sign.

So let’s say, theoretically, that China does detect signs of life in a galaxy far, far away via radio transmissions captured by FAST. What if China leads the way in space alien confabulation? A certain someone will likely be real, real unhappy about that.

As for the villagers displaced by the oversized listening device, Xinahu reports that each “ethnic minority household with housing difficulties” impacted by the relocation scheme will receive a subsidy of 1,000 yuan (about $1,500) in addition to $1,800 in base compensation. While shocking and seemingly outright immoral particularly considering the paltry pay-out involved, the fact that 9,000 people are being displaced by a very large telescope is par for the course in modern China where rural communities are regularly uprooted and shuffled around to make way for the new. This time, however, it's in the name of science.

Best known for coal mines, waterfalls and folk festivals, Guizhou is one of the most impoverished and economically undeveloped of China’s 23 provinces — and the "least fashionable" of the southwest provinces when it comes to tourism per Lonely Planet. Amongst the poorest areas in the ethnically diverse province are the more remote ones, such as the settlements abutting the telescope site.

Via [NY Times], [The Guardian]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

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