Exploring the Cosmos: The Real-Life Celestial Eye

In the remote Chinese mountain military base, a solitary telescope scans the sky, searching for signs of extraterrestrial life. Astrophysicist Ye Wenjie dedicates herself to this profound pursuit, haunted by the memory of her father’s tragic death during the Cultural Revolution. Then, one day, an extraordinary signal arrives—a message from the stars.

This narrative isn’t just the plot of a 2008 novel; it also offers a fascinating glimpse into the work of Chinese science fiction author Liu Cixin. Liu’s literary talent extended beyond storytelling, as he became the first Asian author to win the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. Interestingly, his visionary tale has taken steps toward becoming a reality.

Venturing to the southern Chinese province of Guizhou, near Pingtang city, we find an astonishing achievement: the world’s largest radio telescope, completed on September 25, 2016—seven years ago today. Known as “tianyan” in Chinese, or “Celestial Eye,” this colossal structure boasts a 500-meter diameter and stands amidst the backdrop of lush, karst rock formations. In English, it goes by the more prosaic name, “Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope,” or FAST. It surpassed the renowned Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico to claim the title of the world’s largest radio telescope.

The Celestial Eye is a masterpiece of engineering, comprised of 4,450 triangular elements, supported by 70 towering masts, and constructed at a cost of approximately 1.2 billion yuan, equivalent to around 155 million euros. The ambitious project necessitated the relocation of 9,000 residents from their villages to make room for this scientific marvel. Following completion, it underwent rigorous testing for an additional three years before commencing operations in 2020.

Since its activation, the world’s largest radio telescope has been probing the cosmos, exploring enigmatic phenomena like pulsars—rapidly rotating neutron stars born from the cataclysmic explosions of supernovae. Furthermore, much like the scenario envisioned in Liu’s novel, the Celestial Eye vigilantly listens to the cosmic symphony, hoping to detect any whispers of extraterrestrial existence.

In a noteworthy development last year, Chinese researchers excitedly announced the possibility of having intercepted an extraterrestrial signal, only to subsequently backtrack on their assertion. It is now widely believed that the Celestial Eye encountered radio interference originating from Earth rather than an interstellar greeting. Nevertheless, this remarkable observatory perseveres in its quest to unlock the mysteries of space. What if, one day, it indeed detects a signal that changes our understanding of the universe?

In Liu’s compelling narrative, astrophysicist Ye makes contact with alien beings, even though she harbors knowledge that they harbor intentions of war. Yet, Ye’s faith in humanity has been irreparably eroded. Thankfully, in reality, we have not ventured into such uncharted territory.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *