China Built The World's Biggest Telescope But They've Got No One To Run It

The FAST observatory. STR/AFP/Getty Images

China may have the world’s largest radio telescope in the world, but they’re apparently running into a few problems. Namely, they can’t find someone to run it.

Known as the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), China opened this huge dish in September 2016 to study the cosmos. Among its numerous goals, it will be used to look for signals from extraterrestrial life and study black holes.

Upon completion, the $178-million FAST observatory became the largest operational telescope in the world, with its dish spanning 500 meters (1,600 feet), as its name suggests. It made use of a natural sinkhole in the Guizhou region of China, although some locals had to be relocated to make way for it.

Now, however, it has emerged that China can’t find someone to run the telescope. They’ve been advertising the job of chief scientist for an annual salary of $1.2 million, but there have been no takers so far. It’s reported that China was looking for a foreigner because no astronomer at home had the expertise to run the telescope.

“The post is currently open to scientists working outside China only,” a human resources official at the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS), which owns the telescope, told the South China Morning Post. “Candidates can be of any nationality, any race.”

For many, that could be a rather exciting opportunity. However, Ars Technica notes that there are only about 40 people in the world who could have the necessary requirements for the job. These include 20 years of experience in the field, and experience managing a large-scale radio project.

China has denied reports they have been looking for a foreigner to run the telescope, despite the seemingly verbatim quote from the HR official. In a post on Sina Weibo yesterday, as reported by the state-run Global Times, they said there was no such posting for the job, and it had been filled since July 2016. This chief scientist has not been named.

Presuming it does run smoothly, FAST should be pretty useful. Its huge collecting power will enable it to collect radio waves from distant sources, much like the Arecibo observatory did in the US.

“Having a more sensitive telescope, we can receive weaker and more distant radio messages,” CAS Director-General Wu Xiangping said in 2015. “It will help us to search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy and explore the origins of the universe.”

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