China completes FAST, the world’s largest radio telescope

4 Jul 2016

Chinese engineers have completed the construction of FAST, a 500-metre ‘Aperture Spherical Telescope’, following a five-year project that cost an estimated $180m.

The final installation at FAST marks the first stage in what Chinese officials hope will be two decades of world-leading discovery.

Zheng Xiaonian, deputy head of the National Astronomical Observation under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, claimed FAST would be front and centre for the “global hunt for extraterrestrial life”.

Built in the southwestern province of Guizhou, China, state reports say remote controlling of the site from Beijing, over 2,000km away, will be the way it is operated.

At the moment, scientists are debugging and running ‘trial observations’ from FAST, with the first three years of its operation conducted by Chinese researchers, before it is opened up to the wider scientific community thereafter.

Scanning distant galaxies for detailed discoveries will be the ultimate order of the day, with pulsars so faint we cannot currently see them sure to be top of the menu.

The telescope is made up of 4,450 reflective panels. Cables are attached to every reflective panel to control its coordinates and astronomers will use lasers to pinpoint the exact coordinates, accurate to millimetres.

China takes the crown

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has, as of yesterday, lost its crown as the largest radio telescope on Earth.

The telescope has a diameter of 1,000 ft and was built inside the depression left by a karst sinkhole.

At the start of the year, Ireland announced plans for a €1.4m low-frequency array (LOFAR) telescope in Birr, Co Offaly.

The LOFAR telescope will be the International LOFAR Telescope’s most westerly telescope, with the network stretching from Ireland to the town of Bałdy in eastern Poland, along with in its six partner countries and 50 antenna stations spread across the continent.

“The Irish astronomical community will now add their expertise and effort to the ‘ILT family’, in the pursuit of a great many cutting-edge science questions that LOFAR can answer,” said Dr Rene Vermueulen, director of the organisation.

“Topics range from the properties of the Earth’s upper atmosphere, flaring of the sun, out to the far reaches of the early universe when the first stars and galaxies formed.”

General satellite image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic