China starts building world’s largest radio telescope

December 26th, 2008 - 6:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Guiyang, Dec 26 (Xinhua) China Friday started construction of what is billed as the world’s largest radio telescope with cutting-edge technology.The 500-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), which took 14 years of research and preparation, is being built in a remote southwest region and is expected to be functional by 2013.

As large as 30 football fields, the dish-like telescope, will stand in a region of typical Karst depressions in Guizhou province and will greatly improve astronomical observation, according to the National Astronomical Observatory (NAO), the major developer of the programme.

FAST’s main spherical reflector will comprise 4,600 panels. Its observation sensitivity will be 10 times more powerful than the 100-m aperture steerable radio telescope in Germany.

Its overall capacity will be 10 times larger than what is now the world’s largest (300 m) Arecibo radio telescope developed by the US, according to Nan Rendong, the chief scientist of the project and an NAO researcher.

The project, costing more than 700 million yuan ($102.3 million), will allow astronomers and scientists to probe deeper into outer space, said Zhang Haiyan, an NAO official in charge of construction.

Scientists have so far observed only 1,760 pulsars, which are strongly magnetized spinning cores of dead stars. With the help of FAST, they could find as many as 7,000 to 10,000 within a year, Nan said.

Pulsars have allowed scientists to make several major discoveries, such as confirmation of the existence of gravitational radiation as predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

The telescope could also help to look for possible civilizations ouside our universe by detecting and studying communication signals.

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