Astronomers in China have started putting the world’s largest single-dish telescope through its paces, kicking off a new era in radio astronomy.
The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, known as FAST, will peer into the corners of the universe to search for, among other things, pulsars. By making detailed measurements of these magnetized, rotating neutron stars, astrophysicists hope to reveal more about gravitational waves, which were first discovered earlier this year. The observatory’s first tests began yesterday.
At 1,640 feet across, FAST’s dish is 640 feet larger than the previous record holder, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Both dishes are made of perforated aluminum panels that reflect radio waves from deep space toward an overhead receiver that is suspended by wires strung from massive towers at the periphery.
Here’s Rebecca Morelle, reporting for BBC News:
While China’s telescope in its entirety is too big to move and be fully steerable, each of its triangular panels can be adjusted. It means the surface can be re-angled to allow scientists to study the parts of the sky they choose.
Despite the scale, construction took just five years and cost $180m (£140m).
Because of it’s massive size, the testing and tuning process is expected to take three years.
Nan Rendong, the telescope’s chief scientist, said that Chinese and foreign scientists alike will be allocated time on the observatory.
To build the massive device, a small village was relocated from the natural crater in which the dish sits, and 8,000 people were moved to create a zone of radio silence around the receiver, according to Xinhua News , China’s official news agency.