BEIJING – The world’s largest radio telescope has begun its operations in southwestern China, a project which Beijing says will help humanity search for alien life.

The mega space telescope began working around noon, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday, adding that it will explore space and search for signs of intelligent life.

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The 1.2 billion yuan ($180 million) science mega-project is named after its huge dimensions: the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST.

FAST is expected to place China as the global leader in deep space radio telescope research for 10 or 20 years.

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Built within a valley surrounded by naturally-formed karst hills in China’s remote and mountainous southwestern Guizhou province, the FAST radio telescope’s huge dish is equal in size to 30 football pitches and was constructed from 4,000 individual metal panels at a cost of around $180m.

It also required the relocation of 10,000 people living in the vicinity of the huge structure.

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The feasibility study for the telescope was carried out over 14 years and construction took more than five years to complete.