The largest radio telescope in the world begins operations in China

The Fast telescope is meant to observe pulsars, study molecules and search for evidence of extraterrestrial life by looking for intelligent signals.


The Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), currently the largest radio telescope in the world, began operations in China, according to a report in Xinhua. Fast is located in the lush green mountains in China's Guizhou Province. The telescope is meant to explore space and search for evidence of extraterrestrial life by looking for intelligent signals. The main structure, a reflector with 4,450 panels, is the size of thirty football fields.

fast-3

Image: Xinhua.

Work on the telescope started in 2011, seventeen years after a proposal by Chinese astronomers. The project was developed at a cost of 1.2 billion yuan (around Rs 1,200 crore). The construction of the radio telescope took five years, and was completed in July this year. The satellite will be used to observe pulsars, molecules in space and search for interstellar communication signals. In a trial observation, the telescope has already gathered high quality data on a pulsar 1,351 light years away.

Image: Xinhua.

Image: Xinhua.

The telescope exists in a 5 kilometer wide radio silence zone to minimise interference with instruments. Visitors in the radio silence zone have to turn off their mobile phones. Over 8,000 locals were relocated to make way for the radio silence zone and the telescope. Eight villages were relocated, with compensations for land and housing to the inhabitants. 600 apartments were built to accommodate the relocated locals.

Image: Xinhua.

Image: Xinhua.

The previous record holder for the world's largest radio telescope was the Arecibo Observatory in Peurto Rico, which is 300 meters wide. The Fast telescope is expected to be the best such telescope for the next 10 to 20 years. More world class telescopes are expected to start operations in China over the course of the next few years.


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