To discover whether or not we’re truly alone in the universe, China has built the world’s largest, most powerful, and potentially most expensive single-aperture radio telescope, the BBC reports. The $185 million project began in 2011, and this past week, builders fitted the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) with its final piece. Starting in September, FAST will be used to study pulsars, survey neutral hydrogen in distant galaxies, detect molecules, and explore outer space for radio waves transmitted by extraterrestrial life.

Until recently, the world’s largest telescope was the 984-foot-wide Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. In comparison, FAST is more than 1640 feet wide. Its 4450 triangular-shaped panels will be used to pick up radio signals from as far as 1000 light-years away. The BBC compared FAST to the size of 30 football fields, and one scientist who worked on the project said that if the telescope were filled with wine, each of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants could drink five bottles of it. (We'll toast to that.)

FAST during construction. Image credit: Getty Images

“The size of this telescope is key to its scientific impact,” Tim O’Brien, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, told New Scientist. “The bigger the telescope, the more radio waves it collects and the fainter objects it will be able to see.”

FAST was built into a natural karst depression in China’s southwestern Guizhou province to protect it from electromagnetic disruption. It’s hailed as one of the nation’s greatest technological achievements—but as The Guardian reports, the giant telescope isn’t without controversy. To make room for construction, China relocated more than 9000 residents of the neighboring Pingtang and Luodian counties from their homes earlier this year. They were compensated only 12,000 yuan each (roughly $1800) for the move.

To see FAST in its fully completed glory, check out the video above, courtesy of The Telegraph.

[h/t BBC]

Banner image: iStock