The astonishing Aperture Spherical Telescope in Guizhou, China, may not have the tourist pull it once did, since the Chinese government imposed strict new rules against carrying or using electronic equipment within a radius of 5 kilometers. That includes smartphones, and cameras, meaning grinning selfies are a thing of the past. If you can’t Instagram (if you’re wielding a VPN, at least) the fact you’re looking at the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, then what’s the point in going?
If you’re planning to sneak in and start snapping photos, then be prepared for hefty fines up to $30,000 if you get caught, and the restrictions don’t end at smartphones either. Everything from smartwatches and drones to digital cameras and devices that broadcast any type of signal is a problem, according to xinhuanet.com. It’s all due to preventing interference with the telescope, ensuring the important signals from space get heard. Even aircraft flight paths have been changed to minimize interference.
The so-called quiet zone is 5 kilometers, but restrictions are in place all the way out to 30 kilometers away from the telescope. That must make the telescope itself quite big, right? It’s massive. The structure comprises 4,500 11-meter panels and in total measures half-a-kilometer in size. It cost a similarly giant $185 million to build, with around 9,000 people being relocated during its construction. The sight is around 1,600 kilometers away from Beijing.
What does it do? The headline will always be the telescope’s quest to find alien life, but it also finds new galaxies, plants, and pulsars. Ultimately, the radio telescope builds a better picture of the universe, and not taking a selfie with it is a small sacrifice to make if it helps the structure carry out its lofty task. Since going online in 2016, it has discovered 55 pulsars.
While smartphones and associated tech are banned from the area around the telescope, it’s unlikely to stop keen astronomers and science/tech tourism fans from visiting. The station runs still operates its own tours, where problematic hardware has to be handed in before starting, and there is a healthy tourism industry in the surrounding area built around it, including restaurants and hotels. The new rules became active at the beginning of April. China’s decision is not unusual and other large telescopes around the world enforcing a similar rule, with the U.S. National Radio Quiet Zone in West Virginia being one of the best known.