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In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a vehicle leaves light trails in a long exposure photo as it drives beneath the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in Pingtang County in southwestern China's Guizhou Province Monday, June 27, 2016. Liu Xu/Xinhua via AP) NO SALES

China turned on the Eye of Heaven to begin searching for distant galaxies and alien life

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China switched on the world's largest radio telescope on Sunday, called Tianyan (Chinese for the "Eye of Heaven"). 

The goal is to find signals from distant stars and galaxies -- or alien life. That's assuming that any extraterrestrials would also use radio signals.  Instead of visible light, the telescope searches in the radio spectrum.

There's a similar facility at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, but China's new telescope is a much larger and more powerful.

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a vehicle leaves light trails in a long exposure photo as it drives beneath the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in Pingtang County in southwestern China's Guizhou Province Monday, June 27, 2016. Liu Xu/Xinhua via AP) NO SALES
In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a vehicle leaves light trails in a long exposure photo as it drives beneath the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in Pingtang County in southwestern China's Guizhou Province Monday, June 27, 2016. Liu Xu/Xinhua via AP) NO SALES

The Eye (also known as FAST, for Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope), is 500 meters (1,640 feet) across, dwarfing the 984-foot Arecibo. Construction started in 2011 and finished in July.

More numbers!

  • The Eye is twice as sensitive as the Arecibo and up to 10 times faster at surveying space
  • It requires a radio-silent buffer zone of three miles, which forced 8,000 people from their homes (fortunately, they were offered cash from a $269 million budget as compensation)
  • One of the telescope's first findings during a test run was a pulsar 1,351 light years away 

This comes as good news for China, which hasn't had a good week in space. 

Here's a look at the telescope from China's official Xinhua News.

But what if it doesn't find anything?

It could still be great business for China. The observation deck for tourists costs 368 yuan ($55) to visit -- and it will nearly double to 768 yuan ($115) after a trial period is over, Quartz reports.  That's less than a ticket to Shanghai Disneyland (about $75). 

If 2,000 visitors a day arrived, the Eye would pay for itself in three years. Too bad no one can take photos of the telescope on their phones -- remember, there's three miles of radio-silent buffer zone. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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