FAST telescope
Work on the FAST telescope is already underwayReuters

China has begun the construction of the world's largest radio telescope in the hope of discovering intelligent life in far-flung galaxies.

The official Xinhua news agency reported that workers began assembling the massive dish, which will be bigger than 30 football fields, by attaching 4,450 triangular-shaped panels to the telescope's reflector on 23 July.

The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) will have a perimeter of 1.6km and will be used to scan deep space for signals.

Xinhua quoted Wu Xiangping, director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society, as saying that it will "greatly enhance" the country's ability to scrutinise outer space, with this being one area that China has fallen behind on, having to rely on "second-hand" data collected by other nations for some time.

Xiangping said: "Having a more sensitive telescope, we can receive weaker and more distant radio messages.

"It will help us to search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy and explore the origins of the universe."

Nan Rendong, chief scientist of the FAST project with the National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences, added: "A radio telescope is like a sensitive ear, listening to tell meaningful radio messages from white noise in the universe. It is like identifying the sound of cicadas in a thunderstorm."

The satellite will be based in a bowl-shaped valley in the south-western province of Guizhou and five km from the nearest town, meaning that interference will be minimal. Construction on FAST will be completed next year.