China begins operating world's largest radio telescope

September 25, 2016 by Gillian Wong
In this Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, an aerial view shows the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in the remote Pingtang county in southwest China's Guizhou province. China has begun operating the world's largest radio telescope to help search for extraterrestrial life. (Liu Xu/Xinhua via AP)

The world's largest radio telescope began searching for signals from stars and galaxies and, perhaps, extraterrestrial life Sunday in a project demonstrating China's rising ambitions in space and its pursuit of international scientific prestige.

Beijing has poured billions into such ambitious scientific projects as well as its military-backed space program, which saw the launch of China's second space station earlier this month.

Measuring 500 meters in diameter, the radio telescope is nestled in a natural basin within a stunning landscape of lush green karst formations in southern Guizhou province. It took five years and $180 million to complete and surpasses that of the 300-meter Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, a dish used in research on stars that led to a Nobel Prize.

The official Xinhua News Agency said hundreds of astronomers and enthusiasts watched the launch of the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, in the county of Pingtang.

Researchers quoted by state media said FAST would search for gravitational waves, detect radio emissions from stars and galaxies and listen for signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life.

"The ultimate goal of FAST is to discover the laws of the development of the universe," Qian Lei, an associate researcher with the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told state broadcaster CCTV.

"In theory, if there is civilization in outer space, the radio signal it sends will be similar to the signal we can receive when a pulsar (spinning neutron star) is approaching us," Qian said.

Installation of the 4,450-panel structure, nicknamed Tianyan, or the Eye of Heaven, started in 2011 and was completed in July.

The telescope requires a radio silence within a 5-kilometer (3-mile) radius, resulting in the relocation of more than 8,000 people from their homes in eight villages to make way for the facility, state media said. Reports in August said the villagers would be compensated with cash or new homes from a budget of about $269 million from a poverty relief fund and bank loans.

CCTV reported that during a recent test, the telescope received radio signals from a pulsar that was 1,351 light-years from Earth.

The Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) is nestled between hills in the mountainous region of Guizhou

The radio telescope has double the sensitivity of the Arecibo Observatory, and five to 10 times the surveying speed, Xinhua said.

China has also completed the construction of tourist facilities such as an observation deck on a nearby mountain, reports said. Such facilities can be a draw for visitors—the one in Puerto Rico draws about 90,000 visitors and some 200 scientists each year.

Earlier this month, China launched the Tiangong 2, its second and the latest step in its military-backed program that intends to send a mission to Mars in the coming years. In August, the country launched the first quantum satellite experts said would advance efforts to develop the ability to send communications that can't be penetrated by hackers.

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3.5 / 5 (4) Sep 25, 2016
Just standing there between the mountains, the 500 Meter Spherical Telescope is breathtakingly magnificent -- a stupendous architectural design -- even if it never works.
4.6 / 5 (9) Sep 25, 2016
Just curious. Why do you think it will never work?
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (9) Sep 25, 2016
I say, bravo for the chinese...
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 25, 2016
Guys, yes it is an achievement structurally & from my own experience of (government) chinese electronics with Scandinavian input (if exists), will work very well indeed ;-)

I upgraded a jungle power system in Malaysia (Sabah) circa 1998 under Malaysian oversight & that included input from Chinese & Danish engineers, suffice to say the collaboration was "second to none", each had the humility & willingness to contribute - none of the back biting one-upmanship which lost US firms business & placed good stead for future business

If you get a chance visit the Sabah Forest Industries motel in Sipitang, visit Labuan & if you have a 4wd go to power system I worked on for JRC Tenaga which is still in Mendulong village

Reasoned collaboration with appropriate oversight can do great things & one must be mindful of cultural nuances & the comparative dissonance when those (commercial) cultures might clash & how to sidestep it for all business & government parties concerned :D
1 / 5 (2) Sep 25, 2016
I wonder what sort of transmitter facility it would take at Proxima Centari to be picked up by FAST.
3 / 5 (4) Sep 28, 2016
How can a radio telescope work when the dish is made of thin separated wires rather than a solid dish? Don't you miss all the signals that arrive between the wires?
3.4 / 5 (5) Sep 28, 2016
As long as the wire mesh has a separation significantly less than the wavelength of the radiation you are trying to detect, it is almost as efficient as a solid dish but significantly lighter.
1 / 5 (2) Sep 28, 2016
roedy_green asks
How can a radio telescope work when the dish is made of thin separated wires rather than a solid dish?
Similarly, you could ask how can a TV antenna work when its only a thin wire rather than a solid dish (implying most of the signals go around). The answer is both simple & complex in relation to wavelengths ie Simple answers can be offered at schools but, the more complex at university - it comes down to Maxwell's Equations in relation to antenna/aerial/dish geometries for the frequencies you want to "couple to" - in terms of moving electrons around via constructive interference (CI) or over band of (close) frequencies & enough energy for detection

roedy_green asked
Don't you miss all the signals that arrive between the wires?
You miss some for all sorts of issues re uncertainty and its also economics to a degree as well. The spacing between the wires is crucial - again re wavelengths of signals you want as they offer CI or Destructive I
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 29, 2016
How can a radio telescope work when the dish is made of thin separated wires rather than a solid dish? Don't you miss all the signals that arrive between the wires?
This is the type of question that somebody asks himself and then does a quick search on the internet and finds out.

But then there are those who come here and ask, expecting people to do their research for them. And there are others who seem to enjoy feeding these people for unknown reasons.

Notice how I avoided using terms like lazy and mental paraplegics and suckers and dupes and etc? People dont seem to like those terms.

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