China has taken a big step forward in space exploration: a huge radio telescope – the largest in the world – has begun operating from its base in the southwest of the country.
Its mission includes trying to understand better the origins of the universe, and searching for extraterrestrial life.
The telescope’s giant dish, 500 metres across, was finished in July and has now started receiving signals from space according to Chinese scientists.
Engineers say more than 100 tests were performed in preparation for the launch.
Some 8,000 people were evacuated from the valley in Guizhou province where it has been built as it needs a quiet environment, with radio silence within a five-kilometre radius.
Despite the vast scale of the operation the structure has taken only five years to build at a cost of around 160 million euros.
Beijing hopes the telescope will symbolise a transition towards investment in science and technology, and away from cheap manufacturing.
Its sheer size will help it detect signals from far flung corners of the cosmos.
China’s space ambitions include building a space station and putting a human on the moon in the next 20 years.
The country once barely registered on the scale in terms of space exploration. It now ranks just behind the US.