Giant telescope provides path to fun, profit

Updated: 2016-09-26 08:17

By Yang Jun in Pingtang, Guizhou and Chen Mengwei in Beijing(China Daily)

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Potential revenues seen in tourism: Visitors welcome, but not cellphones

As the world's largest single-aperture radio telescope for scanning the universe - China's FAST - made its debut on Sunday, the local government rolled out its own grand vision for high-end tourism. It takes the form of tourism, with ticket prices as high as 668 yuan ($100).

Perhaps the better news is that, starting on Monday, a trial run at the scenic spot will begin at a discounted price of 368 yuan per person, almost 50 percent off, according to the tourism bureau of Pingtang county, Guizhou province, where the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope sits. As many as 2,000 people can visit the site each day.

The ticket is more like an all-day pass that gives tourists access to most spots related to the giant telescope, including a 2,700-square-meter visitor's stand overlooking the installation, which is the size of 30 soccer fields. There's also an astronomy-themed museum and a cultural park. The FAST itself is not open to the public. Shuttles within the visitors' zone are free.

Going into the zone gives visitors a day of relief from the ball and chain of the internet in an era where everybody is connected to everybody by mobile phone, like it or not. The gigantic yet delicate radio telescope tolerates zero disturbance from cellular services, according to Peng Bo, deputy manager of the FAST project. Hence the governor of Guizhou signed an executive order in 2013 forbidding the use of any electronic devices within 5 kilometers of the telescope.

Visitors are required to deposit all digital devices, including cellphones and digital cameras, in lockers before going into the signal-free zone.

Conventional film cameras are allowed, for those who want to take pictures. And if a person really needs to make a phone call, several free landlines can be found at the visitors' stand and tourist center.

The hotpot-shaped FAST and the high-altitude natural basin in which it rests have jointly "created a rare scenic spot that perfectly combines modern technology and geology, which is an unparalleled tourism resource that will have a significant impact on the development of Guizhou's tourism industry", the Pingtang tourism bureau said on its official website.

The United States' 305-meter Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico attracts about 130,000 tourists every year, bringing in more than $50 million annually, a report in The Paper said.

Li Yongzhong, 61, a retired middle school teacher, said: "I think the telescope will be beneficial to all Chinese and even people from all over the world. Here we get our income mainly from agriculture, and there are almost no other industries. I think it will bring a lot of tourists from other regions of the county and even from foreign countries that will increase people's income."

Yang Shenghu, 31, a farmer, said: "There have been big changes in transportation conditions here. It's quite something and brings prestige in talking with outsiders. I expect to find a job in town instead of leaving my hometown."

Hou Liqiang contributed to this story.

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 Giant telescope provides path to fun, profit

A news reporter takes a selfie at the telescope site in Pingtang, Guizhou province, on Saturday. The scenic spot will open to visitors on Monday.Hou Liqiang / China Daily

(China Daily 09/26/2016 page5)