Noisy Chinese tourists may be drowning out alien signals – report

Droves of Chinese tourists could be affecting the telescope’s electromagnetic functions. Source: Shutterstock/Stefan Bruder

ACCORDING to scientists, droves of Chinese tourists arriving at the world’s biggest telescope might be preventing the giant dish from functioning properly, a report said.

This was because the 500m aperture spherical telescope, dubbed Fast, in Pingtang county, Guizhou province, was prone to electromagnetic pollution from increased human activity in the isolated area. The missions of the telescope include “receiving and recording pulsar and interstellar signals from extraterrestrial sources”.

According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the scientists were concerned about the impact of new platforms built near the telescope site where the high number of tourists armed with smartphones and other electronic devices observed the huge telescope.

Beijing Planetarium director Zhu Jin was quoted as saying the public’s enthusiasm for advanced scientific facilities has boosted tourism in the secluded area.

While it was “definitely a good thing” for China’s aspirations to become a research superpower, he said there was rapid increase in human activity in the previously isolated region – the location being a key factor as to why it’s chosen for the telescope.

“It can affect the telescope’s observation,” Zhu said. “There may not be an easy solution and may require compromise from both sides.”

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However, the scientists seem to have refused to confront local authorities and aired their frustrations in private.

“We understand their urge to develop the economy and get rid of poverty [in the impoverished region],” said a researcher who declined to be named, quoted by the SCMP.

The government recorded nearly four million tourists visiting Fast in the first half of the year.

And while the telescope was built to make potential breakthrough discoveries and help better understand the origins of the universe, the dish needs to be situated in a very quiet, isolated area.

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The number of tourists, it attracts, however, might impede the scientists from making progress. A local tourism official said the dish was expected to draw 10 million tourists this year alone, the bulk of whom are projected to be domestic tourists.

Another scientist, who also declined to be named, said there was a 5km buffer zone surrounding the core facility of the telescope where smartphones and digital cameras were not allowed to be used without a permit.

“But 10 million tourists a year may have exceeded the telescope designers’ wildest guess. They may need to launch a new round of investigations to assess the exact impact,” the scientist said.