Located in the mountains of Guizhou province in southern China, the recently completed $178 million FAST facility, which has gained the record for being the largest radio telescope in the world, is capable of picking up signals from space that were previously undetectable. Scientists have characterized FAST as "a portal to new discoveries," and a major step in the search for alien life.
According to scientists, the noise created by the visitors, combined with the electromagnetic pollution emitted by their electronic devices, can negatively affect the accuracy of the data the telescope receives. In its search for interstellar signals for signs of extraterrestrial life, the telescope requires that the area around it is quiet, including a 5 km total radio blackout, including smartphones and digital cameras. This is impossible, however, so long as throngs of tourists flock to the area to get a glimpse of the structure.
According to local authorities, the site could be visited by up to 10 million tourists this year, which is almost as much as those who visit the Great Wall of China on an annual basis. Scientists' concerns are complicated by the fact that the tourist attraction has become a major source of income for the county, providing it with 4.6 billion yuan (about $690 million US) in income. It is assumed that in the coming months, the construction of two expressways to the area from Guizhou's capital of Guiyang will only increase the tourist flow. Over 40 hotels and 100 restaurants have already sprung up in the area to serve the growing flow of tourists, with more under construction.
Last December, FAST scientists teamed up with Breakthrough Listen, a $100 million research program funded by Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner to search for signals of intelligent life. Completed late last year, the FAST facility continues to undergo testing and calibration. A formal start date for observation has not been revealed.