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China Begins Operating World's Largest Radio Telescope
Oct 01, 2016

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

Key Features

  • 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.
  • Installation of the 4,450-panel structure, nicknamed Tianyan, or the Eye of Heaven, started in 2011 and was completed in July.
  • The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope or FAST is installed in the county of Pingtang.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The radio telescope has double the sensitivity of the Arecibo Observatory, and five to 10 times the surveying speed.
  • China 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 recently.

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


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