Yesterday, China finished work on the world’s largest radio telescope. The installation will be a boon for astronomers, helping them survey distant stars and look for signs of alien life in deep space.
For better or worse, China’s motto seems to be “go big or go home.” They’re the most populated country in the world; Chinese men are the single-est men in the world, they produce the most wind energy and they have the biggest wall (sorry Trump.) The newest addition to that list is the monumental Five-hundred-meter Single-Aperture Radio Telescope, or FAST. The installation was constructed from 4,450 reflector panels, the last of which was installed on Saturday, and measures in at 457 meters (500 yards) in diameter, reports the Xinhua news agency.
Work on FAST started in March 2011 in the Pingtang County of Guizhou province, after 7 years of planning and designing. And all that planning paid off — the last triangular panel of the reflector was installed on Saturday, two months ahead of schedule.
The whole shebang costed around $180 million. Part of that money was spent in 2009 when the government relocated a total of 9,110 residents on its own expense as part of this project, Xinhua adds citing provincial officials. They were given $1,800 in compensations with minority households in difficult circumstances being given a further $1,500.
Now there are no residents living within 5 km (3 miles) of the immense dish which authorities claim will “create a sound electromagnetic wave environment” for FAST to function with as little interference as possible.
“As the world’s largest single aperture telescope located at an extremely radio-quiet site, its scientific impact on astronomy will be extraordinary, and it will certainly revolutionize other areas of the natural sciences,” said Nan Rendong, chief scientist with the FAST Project, told China.org
Once put into operation FAST will become the largest such functioning installation in use — up to now that title belonged to Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, with has a diameter of 300 meters (328 yards). Peng also considers that FAST will be 10 times more sensitive than the 100-meter (109 yards) steerable telescope in Germany.
FAST will enable astronomers to survey neutral hydrogen in distant galaxies and detect faint pulsars, which are highly magnetized, rotating neutron stars. Deputy Head Zheng Xiaonian of the National Astronomical Observation (NAO) says the first step will be to start trial observation and debugging months before FAST is put into use. After that, Chinese scientists will perform early-stage research for a year or two then FAST will be open to astronomers worldwide, says the director of the NAO Radio Astronomy Technology Laboratory, Peng Bo.
The project can help search for more strange objects to better understand the origin of the universe and boost the global hunt for extraterrestrial life, said Zheng Xiaonian, deputy head of the National Astronomical Observation under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Li Di, an NAO researcher, said in two or three years scientists may find amino acids in outer space, the foundation block of life.