China Didn’t See That Coming: Tourists Threaten World’s Largest Radio Telescope
Asian power built an Pingtang Astronomy Town to lure tourism, which brought cellphones.
In a bid to reach further out into the universe and increase mankind’s understanding of that final frontier, China spent $180 million to create the Five-Hundred-Meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, or FAST. To ensure the largest radio telescope in the world could operate as intended, natives in nearby villages in Pingtang County, southwest China’s Guizhou Province, were relocated. After all, these type of radio telescopes are usually put in remote places — such as the Australian outback — to minimize the radio-frequency interference that can mask the weak radio waves coming back from space.
In a bid to reach further into tourist pockets, however, the local government also built the Pingtang Astronomy Town, which includes hotels, a museum, restaurants and a constellation of souvenir options. As Wired points out in a new expose, that is not the formula for successful science:
“The point of radio telescopes is to sense radio waves from space—gas clouds, galaxies, quasars,” writes Wired‘s Sarah Scoles. “By the time those celestial objects’ emissions reach Earth, they’ve dimmed to near-nothingness, so astronomers build these gigantic dishes to pick up the faint signals. But their size makes them particularly sensitive to all radio waves, including those from cell phones, satellites, radar systems, spark plugs, microwaves, Wi-Fi, short circuits, and basically anything else that uses electricity or communicates.”
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