Enlarge / This picture taken on September 24, 2016 shows the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope in southwestern China’s Guizhou province. (credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)
During the second season of The Big Bang Theory, the aspiring actress Penny borrows money from Sheldon. Without a second thought, the theoretical physicist grabs a peanut brittle can in which he stores his extra money, and urges Penny to borrow as much as she wants. “This is money I’m not using,” Sheldon explains.
Nick Suntzeff, an astronomer at Texas AM University, recalled this episode when asked why no astronomers had yet taken a lucrative position to run the world’s largest radio telescope, in China.
The job pays about $1.2 million annually. “Now, that is an exaggeration,” Suntzeff said of the TV show. “But I know many astronomers who would do such a thing.
They want to be paid well, yes, but the money does not buy you telescope time, or access to supercomputers, or fund postdocs and graduate students.”
China has built a staggeringly large instrument in the remote southern, mountainous region of the country called the Five hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST. The telescope measures nearly twice as large as the closest comparable facility in the world, the US-operated Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. Radio telescopes use a large, parabolic dish to collect radio waves from distant sources, such as pulsars and black holes—or even alien civilizations.
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