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China’s effort to become a major player in the astronomy and space exploration field has run up against a strange problem.
China has built a staggeringly large instrument in the remote southern, mountainous region of the country called the Five hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST. The telescope measures nearly twice as large as the closest comparable facility in the world, the US-operated Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. Radio telescopes use a large, parabolic dish to collect radio waves from distant sources, such as pulsars and black holes—or even alien civilizations.
According to the South China Morning Post, the country is looking for a foreigner to run the observatory because no Chinese astronomer has the experience of running a facility of such size and complexity. The Chinese Academy of Sciences began advertising the position in western journals and job postings in May, but so far there have been no qualified applicants.
Part of the problem here is that it appears the telescope was built by order of the Chinese government, not Chinese astronomers. It would have been better for China to have built something its own astronomers were qualified to run. Instead, they built something to impress the world, and now can’t find a way to use it.