China switched on the world's largest radio telescope on Sunday, officially launching its mission to hunt for extraterrestrial life and explore space.
The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) was launched in a mountainous region of China's Guizhou province, according to state media outlet Xinhua, 17 years after the project was first proposed by Chinese astronomers and more than five years after work began on the $180 million structure.
According to a Xinhua report in August, 8,000 people were moved from their homes to make room for FAST, which is the size of 30 football pitches and made up of 4,450 panels. The displaced villagers were due to be compensated with cash or new housing and offered jobs in tourism or support services around the FAST project, as part of a $269 million relocation budget set aside by the government.
Xinhua described FAST as a "super-sensitive 'ear' capable of spotting very weak messages - if there are any - from space." The media outlet said that in a recent trial, FAST had detected high-quality electromagenitc waves sent from a pulsar about 1,351 light-years from Earth.