The world's largest radio telescope is now under construction in Pingtang, south-west China's Guizhou Province.

Builders will put 4,450 pieces of reflector panels together to form a huge dish, which is the size of 30 football pitches, according to Dawning Information Industry, which participates in the construction.

When it is completed in 2016, the 500m aperture spherical telescope (Fast) will be the world's largest, overtaking Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory, which is only 300m in diameter.

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."

A radio signal as far as tens of billions of light years away could possibly be caught by the telescope, which will extend China's space tracking scope from the moon's orbit to the outer edge of the solar system upon its completion next year.

"Radio is very important and very sensitive. It can detect the weakest signal and it is the most effective way," said Xu Renxin, professor from the department of astronomy of Peking University.

Supercomputer Skyeye-1, capable of a quadrillion computing operations per second and high-speed network of 100GB per second, will support Fast's space exploration.

The construction of the telescope began in March 2011 in a natural, bowl-shaped valley in the southern part of Guizhou.