World’s largest radio telescope prepares to listen

The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), the world’s largest radio telescope, was completed on September 25 in southwestern China’s Guizhou Province and will now begin its debugging and testing stage, announced the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

World's largest radio telescope prepares to listen

FAST boasts the world’s largest aperture, at 500 meters, and has a total area equal to 30 soccer fields. It not only surpasses the Arecibo Observatory—once the world’s largest single-aperture telescope—in size, but also in sensitivity and overall performance.

When it is put into operation, FAST will contribute to the observation of celestial bodies, making it possible to generate more reliable theories and models with which to verify modern physics and astronomy and offering large potential for new discoveries.

“Once completed, FAST will lead the world for at least 10 to 20 years,” said YAN Jun, director general of the telescope’s designer, builder and owner, the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC) under CAS.

FAST was designed, developed and constructed entirely by Chinese scientists. It will enable scientists to survey neutral hydrogen in distant galaxies, detect faint pulsars, probe interstellar molecules, and search for possible interstellar communication signals, among other things.

Although it is a Chinese research facility, the telescope will be open to the international scientific community.

“As soon as the telescope works normally, the Time Allocation Committee (TAC) will distribute observation time according to the scientific value of the proposals. Proposals from foreign scientists will be accepted as well. There will also be foreigners on the TAC,” said NAN Rendong, FAST’s general engineer and chief scientist.

This project was first envisaged in 1994. After more than 10 years of site surveying and key technology research, it was finally approved by the Chinese government in 2007.

Construction of the telescope began in 2011 in Pingtang County, Guizhou Province, which is famous for its karst landforms and mountains that naturally protect against radio frequency interference.

After more than five years of construction, the last of the telescope’s 4,450 reflecting panels was installed on July 3, marking the completion of major construction work.

Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Photo Credit: SKA Organisation

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