China's FAST largest radio telescope
China begins operation of its largest radio telescope FAST Reuters

The world's largest radio telescope, the 500-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), has been officially opened on Sunday (25 September) in Pingtang County, in southwest China's Guizhou province.

Work for the 1.2 billion yuan ($180m) project originally started on 2011, almost 17 years after it was first proposed. The installation of the telescope's main structure, a 4,450 panel reflector, was completed in July this year.

"(The telescope) will certainly generate enthusiasm, bring people into science, and make China important in the world of science," Joseph Taylor, an astronomer at Princeton University told Xinhua news agency.

It has been designed to observe pulsars which are a rapidly rotating neutron star. It will also explore interstellar molecules and interstellar communication signals.

FAST is believed to be the most sensitive radio telescope ever which could even detect the signal of a mobile phone used on the moon.

The project required radio silence within a 5km (3 mile) radius. More than 1.8b yuan ($270m; £210m) was spent to relocate the 8,000 local residents and shifting them into two new settlements of 600 apartments.

For a trial period, tourists will be able to start visiting the scenic zone around Fast from Monday (26 September), the scenic zone around FAST, during which 2,000 will visit an observation deck at the top of a nearby mountain, although they will not be allowed to use electronic gadgets that can interfere with the telescope.

The scenic zone will feature a 300-hectare telescope-themed park with a 5000-square-metre planetarium.