World's Largest Radio Telescope Begins Operations
China will roll out more "world-class" telescope projects in five to 10 years
Edited by Lu Yan  ·  2016-09-26  ·   Source:

The 500-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in Pingtang County, southwest China's Guizhou Province. The FAST, world's largest radio telescope, measuring 500 meters in diameter, was completed and put into use on September 25 (XINHUA)

The world's largest radio telescope was put into use in a mountainous region of southwest China's Guizhou Province.

Shortly after noon, in a karst valley in Pingtang County, hundreds of astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts witnessed the official launch of the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope's (FAST) mission to explore space and hunt for extraterrestrial life.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory letter to scientists, engineers and builders on the launch.

Work on the nearly 1.2-billion-yuan ($180 million) project started in 2011, 17 years after it was proposed by Chinese astronomers.

The installation of the telescope's main structure—a 4,450-panel reflector as large as 30 football pitches—was finished in early July.

"[The telescope] will certainly generate enthusiasm, bring people into science, and make China important in the world of science," Joseph Taylor, a Nobel Prize-winning astronomer at Princeton University, told Xinhua.

The astronomer was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1993 for discovering indirect proof of gravitational waves with the assistance of Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory, home to a radio telescope that is 350 meters in diameter.

Taylor expects FAST to be a "productive" project, even if he is unsure whether any of its discoveries will lead to a Nobel Prize.

In fact, FAST has already had a good start. In a recent trial observation, it received a set of high-quality electromagnetic waves sent from a pulsar about 1,351 light-years away, said Qian Lei, an associate researcher with the National Astronomical Observation (NAO) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which built the project.

FAST's tasks include observation of pulsars as well as exploration of interstellar molecules and interstellar communication signals.

The telescope is expected to discover twice the number of pulsars as are currently known and its is highly likely to make breakthroughs in the study of gravitational waves and general relativity theory, said Sun Caihong, its deputy chief technologist.

In the first two or three years after its completion, the telescope will undergo further adjustment, and during that period Chinese scientists will use it for early stage research. After that, it will be open to scientists worldwide.

The telescope's chief technologist, Wang Qiming, said FAST, designed and built by Chinese scientists, will remain the global leader for the next 10 to 20 years.

Yan Jun, head of the NAO, said China will roll out more "world-class" telescope projects in five to 10 years.

(Xinhua News Agency September 25, 2016)

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