Construction complete on the world's largest radio telescope in China
With the installation of a final triangular panelon July 3, 2016, construction has been completed on the gargantuanFive-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) inDawodang, Kedu Town, Guizhou Province, China. Upon commencingoperations in late September, the 1.5 billion yuan (US$ 180 million)FAST telescope will become the most powerful single-dish radiodetector in the world.
The concept for the vast telescope was firstproposed in 1994, but the logistical nightmare of finding anappropriate site for the enormous dish prevented the Chinesegovernment from giving a final go-ahead on the ambitious projectuntil relatively recently, in 2007.
Dawodang, Kedu Town was eventually selected as thesite of the radio telescope in no small part thanks to the presenceof the surrounding mountain formation, which will act to sheildFAST's delicate instrumentation from local radio disturbances.
Less than 6 years after the official start of theconstruction project, the last of 4,450 panels has been installedatop an impressive cable-net frame. When manipulated by actuatorslocated at the base of the structure, the swarm of panels combine toform a single parabolic radio reflecting dish with a surface area theequivalent of 30 soccer fields.
"FAST will enable Chineseastronomers to jump-start many scientific goals, such as surveyingthe neutral hydrogen in the Milky Way, detecting faint pulsars, andlistening to possible signals from other civilizations," said NANRendong, general engineer and chief scientist for the FAST project."It's time for China to have its ownbig telescope."
In the coming months, the team responsible for theoperation of FAST will be engaged in testing the telescope's manydelicate systems to ensure that it is ready for its first set ofobservations, which are set to begin sometime in September this year.
Astronomers across the globe are eagerlyanticipating the next generation of powerful terrestrial and orbitalobservation platforms. Alongside the FAST telescope, upcoming assetssuch as the European Extremely Large Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), and the addition of the European Virgo laser interferometer to the LIGO gravitational wave hunters willallow astronomers to gain a deeper understanding of the complexnature of our Universe.
Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences