China has finished work on the world’s largest single-aperture telescope. The Five Hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) will search for extraterrestrial life and be used to explore the universe when it starts operations in September.

"The project has the potential to search for more strange objects to better understand the origin of the universe and boost the global hunt for extraterrestrial life," Zheng Xiaonian, deputy head of the National Astronomical Observation under the Chinese Academy Sciences, told Xinhua news agency.

The last of FAST’s 4450 panels were fitted over the weekend, completing five years of work that cost a total of $180 million. Its 500-meter width – the size of 30 soccer fields - makes it nearly twice the size of Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory, and it will be ten times more sensitive than the steerable 100-meter telescope in Germany.

The Chinese media reports that over 9000 residents living within a 5km distance of the telescope were relocated to nearby settlements to ensure there’ll be no magnetic interference. Each person will reportedly be paid 12,000 yuan (around $1838) – about an average year’s wage in the area - with extra money going to those from ethnic minorities.

In its first two or three years of operation, FAST will undergo further adjustment, during which time it will be used for early-stage research. Once this is complete, its functions will be opened up to scientists from across the world.

In addition to searching for aliens, FAST will be used for surveying natural hydrogen in distant galaxies, and to detect faint pulsars and gravitational waves.