China has been hitting major milestones over these past few years. The most recent addition to the list is finishing construction on the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope. The telescope, which stretches the length of 30 soccer fields, sits on the side of a mountain in the south-western province of Guizhou, China.
The 500-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) for short, will be used to explore some of the most mysterious objects in the universe, such as black holes and pulsars, and even aid in the search for extraterrestrial life. In total, the telescope cost 1.15 billion yuan (US$185 million).
Constructing the giant telescope was no easy task. It was constructed with a similar design to the previous record holder, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, but on a grander scale— Arecibo is only 305 meters in diameter.
The telescope is situated in a natural karst depression, protecting it from electromagnetic disruption. It has nearly 4,500 panels and has a circumference of 1.6-km. It’ll now undergo months of debugging until the official start of operations in September.
But FAST is not only bigger than those that came before it, it is also more sensitive and innovative in several ways: It has a much larger sky coverage thanks to its active main reflector, and a light-weight, adjustable feed cabin to move with high precision.
“FAST will enable Chinese astronomers to jump-start many scientific goals, such as surveying the neutral hydrogen in the Milky Way, detecting faint pulsars, and listening to possible signals from other civilizations,” said Nan Rendong, the general engineer and chief scientist of FAST.