Visitors flock to the world's largest telescope

The growing tourism is predicted to have negative effects on the operation of FAST, the largest telescope in the world.

The overwhelming number of visitors may negatively affect the productivity of the world's largest telescope placed in China. Only in the first half of 2017, nearly 4 million tourists have visited the 500 meter-tall FAST telescope atop a mountain in Pingtang County, Guizhou Province, China. During the Dragon Boat Festival held on May 30th, about 220,000 people came to visit the largest telescope in the world. 

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FAST was built with the aim of helping scientists observe the universe better, and its main task is to receive and record signals coming from sources in the space out there. In order to do this task, the telescope should be located in a remote and quiet place. However, the development of tourism is changing the environment here. 

The number of visitors coming to the FAST telescope in only one day almost doubles the number of people arriving at Arecibo, the world's second largest telescope placed in Puerto Rico, in the whole year. 

It is estimated that FAST telescope is going to attract about 10 million visitors, mostly are domestic, this year, which is equivalent to the number of people visiting the Great Wall in Beijing.

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Two expressways are going to be constructed in order to connect Pingtang county to the capital Guiyang of Guizhou province. The two 8-lane roads are expected to take visitors from the international airport to the FAST telescope’s place within 1 hour. 

Tian Renfei, a senior of Kedu town which is located near the FAST telescope, told reporters that the town’s GDP growth target for the upcoming years is 50%. 46 hotels and more than 100 restaurants have been built in this 700-year-old town so as to keep up with the massive growth of tourism here. 

Nevertheless, Beijing Planetarium director, Zhu Jin, said that the tourism would increase human activities in the area of FAST telescope than before. This will lead into the electromagnetic pollution as well as affect the operation of the FAST telescope. 

"It can affect the telescope's observation," Mr. Zhu Jin said. "There may not be an easy solution and may require compromise from both sides."

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FAST actually stands for ‘five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope’. The construction consists of a fixed 500 m diameter dish constructed in a natural depression in the landscape. Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope is the world's largest filled-aperture radio telescope, and the second-largest single-dish aperture after the sparsely-filled RATAN-600 placed in Russia.

By: Chris Stewart

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