China has officially embarked on the next stage towards a new era of star gazing. The construction of the largest radio telescope in the world began in 2011. Now, the panels that will make up the giant space-viewing machine are finally being assembled.
The telescope is called FAST, or the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope.
On Thursday, technicians began inserting the 4,450 triangular, reflector panels into place. This whopping reflector will dwarf all other radio telescopes when it comes to its dish size, measuring 500 meters (1,640 feet) in diameter. Each equilateral triangle panel has a side length of 11 meters (36 feet). The second largest radio telescope built, the Arecibo Observatory, is in Puerto Rico and is 305 meters (1,000 feet) across in diameter.
The telescope will be nestled comfortably in a valley in the Karst depression located in the Guizhou province. This site was chosen because It is ideally located in isolation from towns or residents; there is a 5-kilometer (3 mile) area around the dish separating it from any people and therefore, any interference. A 500-meter telescope is a sensitive instrument and needs ‘radio silence’ to pick up accurate signals.
Central Image: FAST supporting structure diagram. Arxiv.
The region is also well-suited for drawing rainwater underground that will protect the reflector from environmental damage.
FAST is greatly anticipated by Chinese space scientists since they currently have to rely a lot on “second-hand” data. Wu Xiangping, director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society, said: “Having a more sensitive telescope, we can receive weaker and more distant radio messages.”
He continued with a message of hope and discovery: “It will help us to search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy and explore the origins of the universe.”
Fortunately for any tourists, the designers of the telescope have prepared for a certain level of public interest. There is an observation platform being built on one of the hills surrounding the telescope: the best place to appreciate a 500-meter piece of technology that will peer into space on our behalf.