An aerial view shows the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in the remote Pingtang county in southwest China's Guizhou province. (Liu Xu/Xinhua/Associated Press)
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 metres 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 US 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.
China starts up world’s largest single-dish radio telescope
The five-hundred-metre aperture spherical radio telescope (Fast) on its first day of operation in Pingtang. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images
The world’s largest radio telescope has begun operating in south-western China, a project Beijing says will help humanity search for alien life.
The five-hundred-metre aperture spherical radio telescope (acronym: Fast), nestled between hills in the mountainous region of Guizhou, began working about noon on Sunday, the official news agency, Xinhua, reported.
Built at a cost of 1.2bn yuan (£138m), the telescope dwarfs the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico to become the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, with twice the sensitivity and a reflector as large as 30 football pitches.
China launches FAST, the largest radio-telescope in the world
“It’s like a big iron wok,” one local said. Image credits Liu Xu / Xinhua
FAST, the five-hundred-meter aperture spherical telescope, measures 500 meters in diameter. This makes it almost twice as big (195 meters wider) as the previous largest device of its kind, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico — and more importantly, it will be almost twice as sensitive. It didn’t come cheap: Xinhua reports that the telescope cost US$184 million to build — although that seems rather modest given its size — and required the displacement of 8,000 people from the area to create a 3-mile wide radio silence zone around the dish.
But all this array will be put to good use. Like its counterparts around the world, FAST will be used to study the Universe farther away than anything else we have at our disposal. It’s going to be much more powerful than the rest, however, enough to pick up on things that they miss. Things such as mapping the shape of the Universe, or the behavior of molecules in other galaxies. It will also be on the look-out for pulsars, the imploded cores of stars which emit huge levels of radiation, and other-worldly radio signals. In one test, it picked up on radio waves emitted from a pulsar 1,351 light-years away.
FAST will become the place to be for “observation of pulsars as well as exploration of interstellar molecules and interstellar communication signals,” Xinhua reports.
China's giant telescope may lead to "discoveries beyond wildest imagination": U.S. expert
Photo taken on Sept. 24, 2016 shows the 500-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in Pingtang County, southwest China's Guizhou Province. The FAST, world's largest radio telescope, measuring 500 meters in diameter, was completed and put into use on Sunday. (Xinhua/Ou Dongqu)
WASHINGTON, Sept. 24 (Xinhua) -- China's 500-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) may help better understand the origin and structure of the universe and accelerate and even revolutionize the search for life beyond Earth, a renowned U.S. alien intelligence expert said Saturday.
Douglas Vakoch, president of METI International, an organization promoting messaging outer space in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, noted that astronomers worldwide will be invited to use the facility through a competitive review of observing proposals.
"By opening FAST to use by the broader international community, China is demonstrating its commitment to fostering astronomy as a global scientific enterprise," he told Xinhua, saying it may lead to "discoveries beyond our wildest imagination."
Built to detect alien existence
About 10,000 people in China will be relocated to make way for the world’s largest radio telescope, which is built to detect alien existence.
Built in the south-western Guizhou province, the 1.2 billion yuan (£128 million) project is part of the country’s ambitious hunt for aliens.
To do that effectively, state-run Xinhua news agency reported that officials will “evacuate” all homes within three miles (5km) of the radio telescope.
China to relocate 10,000 people to make way for telescope
The 500m telescope will dwarf the world's current largest in Puerto Rico
China is preparing to relocate nearly 10,000 people to make way for the world's largest radio telescope.
Residents will be moved from their homes in the south-western province of Guizhou to prevent interference with the telescope's electromagnetism.
The project's lead scientists told China's state news agency that the telescope would further the search for intelligent life in the universe.
Thousands to be relocated in China to make way for world's largest radio telescope
More than 9,000 people in China will be forced to leave their homes to make way for the world's largest radio telescope as part of the country’s ambitious hunt for aliens.
Authorities in south-western Guizhou province will relocate the families to make way for the launch of the world’s largest radio telescope.
The 1.2 billion yuan (£128 million) project is designed to detect signs of extraterrestrial life.
related: China's moon landing: the space race with India
China’s giant radio telescope reveals astronomical ambitions
The 500m aperture telescope under construction
China is building the world’s largest radio telescope with a 500m aperture in a project that demonstrates the country’s growing scientific ambitions.
Decades of high-powered growth have given China the means to invest in “prestige” sciences such as astronomy that are normally out of the reach of all but the richest nations. China hopes to land a man on the moon around 2025, matching a feat achieved by the US nearly 60 years earlier.
The design of the 500m aperture spherical radio telescope (Fast) allows it to scan a greater area of the sky than the 300m Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, current holder of the largest telescope crown — although at any one time only 300m of its aperture can be deployed. It will be used to sense hydrogen gas and pulsars, in a search for clues as to the origins of the universe, although it will also have the potential to pick up signs of life outside our solar system.
China puts finishes touches on world’s biggest radio telescope
Engineers have finished two-thirds of the panels of the gigantic radio telescope in Guizhou province as of Saturday. JIANG DONG/CHINA DAILY
Scientists carried out the last step in testing a key component of China’s gigantic radio telescope on Saturday. After its scheduled completion in September, it will be the largest such telescope in the world.
A team successfully tested the installation of the telescope’s “retina”, a mechanism weighing 30 metric tons and suspended 140-160 meters above the half-finished reflector dish which will collect signals from the universe.
The telescope, 500 meters in diameter and usually known as FAST, is composed of 4,500 mostly triangular panels with sides measuring 11 meters that create a parabolic shape or hemisphere. The motion of the panels alters the collective shape of the antenna, which is capable of reflecting radio signals from the universe to a focal point, where the receiver dome sits.
China Joins Ranks of Moon Explorers
A Chinese man takes a photo of his son in an astronaut suit, locally known as taikonauts, at the Science Museum in Beijing, Dec. 1, 2013. Photographer: Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images
China landed an unmanned rover on the moon, making the Asian nation the third country after the U.S. and the Soviet Union to touch down a spacecraft on the lunar surface.
The probe, carrying a rover dubbed Jade Rabbit that will survey the moon’s geology and natural resources, landed at about 9 p.m. Beijing time yesterday, the Xinhua News Agency said. China’s achievement comes 47 years after the Soviet Union performed a soft landing of its Luna 9 spacecraft on the moon.
The launch is part of the Asian nation’s growing space exploration ambitions, an effort which has seen the country spend billions of dollars even as other nations cut back. For its next step, China wants to land a lunar rover and return it to Earth in 2017, according to Xinhua.
Update 15 Sep 2016: China launches Tiangong-2 "Heavenly Palace" to pave way for space station
Tiangong-2 lifts off on a Long March 2F-T2 rocket from the Jiuquan launch centre on at 22:04 Beijing time, September 15. (Photo: Xinhua)
China has successfully launched its Tiangong-2 space lab, marking a crucial step towards establishing a permanently crewed space station.
Tiangong-2 was launched by a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre at 22:04 Beijing time (14:04 UTC) on Thursday, taking just under ten minutes to enter orbit.
The 10.4 metre long, 3.35 wide spacelab will be visited in October by two astronauts aboard the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft, to conduct a range of scientific research and set a national record for mission duration.
A comprehensive guide to China’s space activities in 2016
China's space program