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Witnessing the rapid transformation of Guizhou

Updated: 2017-11-27 17:14 By Bruce Connolly (chinadaily.com.cn)

Witnessing the rapid transformation of Guizhou

Village near Huamao. [Photo by Bruce Connolly/chinadaily.com.cn]

A three-hour journey led from Guiyang out to Pingtang county, passing again through a landscape of man and nature. Where farming was possible, there were villages and small towns. An impression was of many people still living a semi-rural life, although modern two- or three-floor buildings were replacing older structures. I was struck by the clarity of the air as we passed through this area mainly occupied by Buyi and Miao ethnic groups. We were going to Pingtang first to visit a new science city, partly enclosed by forested slopes, that focuses on astronomical tourism. The town had a futuristic-designed visitors centre based around space exploration.

Cradled in a nearby hilltop limestone depression is Tianyan, or the Eye of Heaven, a five-hundred-meter aperture spherical telescope or FAST. This area was selected for the telescope in 2007 with construction ongoing between 2011 and 2016. The world's largest and most sensitive single-aperture radio telescope, costing 1.2 billion yuan ($180 million), its 4,450-panel reflector is as large as 30 football pitches. The concept is to observe pulsars while exploring interstellar molecules and interstellar communication signals. So sensitive, no device generating electromagnetic radiation waves such as cell phones and digital cameras can be taken within the area's limits. Shuttle buses transfer visitors up the mountain to an extensive series of wooden staircases climbing up to the rim for stunning views over this massive project designed and built by Chinese scientists and engineers. It is expected to be a world leader in its field for the next 10 to 20 years.