China‘s science authorities developed an instrument called FAST, Five Hundred Metre Aperture Spherical Telescope, the largest radio telescope in the world.

The facility was opened on Sunday, at a ceremony where press and academics got together to discover the 1,60ft dish. The instrument will take three years before it can be used since this period is to calibrate the radio telescope enough to make it work correctly.

The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or “FAST,” in Pingtang County, southwest China’s Guizhou Province. Image Credit: Xinhua/Liu Xu


What is a radio telescope?

This kind of instrument captures radio waves using a dish to capture the particles, instead of traditional glasses that capture light and transforms it into images.

FAST is the biggest radio telescope built yet and with a 500-meter dish, will be able to recognize energy waves in the space, which is a valuable advance in the astronomy science and astrophysics.

China’s authorities spent about 1,2 billion yuan -which is almost 140 million euros- to built the massive facility, and has twice the sensitivity that the powerful telescope constructed in the Arecibo Observatory has. FAST’s reflector has the size of 30 football pitches.

The dish was built using more than 4,000 panels, which were put together with high technology equipment. It is already considered a “world-class” telescope and is probably going to be the largest instrument in the radio telescope industry. China began the construction of the massive radio telescope in 2011 and the five years; the area was strictly monitored.

In the initial test, FAST was able to detect electromagnetic waves emitted by a pulsar calculated to be around 1,300 light years away.

China’s Science Revolution and Search

The Asian nation has put considerable efforts in the last few years in creating an ambitious space program as part of the technology progress of China. Among that program, there is a project to built a permanent orbiting space station that will operate by 2020, as well as a Moon Mission with astronauts.

The creation and operation of the radio telescope FAST have also been described by Chinese authorities as a tool to search for intelligent life outside the galaxy. The Chinese Astronomical Society stated that the high degree of sensitivity of the dish is a valuable asset -if not the crucial factor- to detect energy waves that can be emitted by alien forms of life. What FAST can discover is still unknown, but expectations both in the science and the military field are high.

The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or “FAST,” in Pingtang County, southwest China’s Guizhou Province. Image Credit: Xinhua/Liu Xu

The consequences of the dish

Besides all the advance in science this radio telescope represents and a significant amount of money it was needed, the construction of the dish also had some other consequences in China.

The control required for the area surrounding during the construction forced people living there to move. Even when the area is remote and relatively poor -which is why the China’s authorities chose it- some families were affected by the construction, so the government had to compensate them, building around 600 apartments.

People were offered cash, housing, and support during the relocation process. The cost of the compensations was as high as the construction itself, even when no major towns were directly affected.

Source: BBC