China to accomplish construction of world’s largest single-aperture radio telescope in 2016

July 24, 2015 10:48 am

Technicians began assembling the world’s largest radio telescope,
whose dish is the size of 30 football grounds, deep in the mountains of
southwest ’s Guizhou Province on Thursday.

In the afternoon, technicians began to assemble the telescope’s
reflector, which is 500 meters in diameter and made up of 4,450 panels.
Each panel is an equilateral triangle with a side length of 11 meters.

Once completed, the single-aperture spherical telescope called “FAST”
will be the world’s largest, overtaking Puerto Rico’s Arecibo
Observatory, which is 300 meters in diameter.
Nan Rendong, chief scientist of the FAST project with the National
Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Xinhua
that the bigger the dish is, the more capable the telescope is and the
weaker messages it will receive.
“A radio telescope is like a sensitive ear, listening to tell
meaningful radio messages from white noise in the universe. It is like
identifying the sound of cicadas in a thunderstorm,” he said.
With a perimeter of about 1.6 km, it will take about 40 minutes to walk around the telescope.
The giant dish is built upon a naturally-formed bowl-like valley in the southern part of Guizhou.
“There are three hills about 500 meters away from one another, creating
a valley that is perfect to support the telescope,” said Sun Caihong,
chief engineer of FAST’s construction, explaining the reason why this
site was chosen.
The Karst formation in the local landscape is good for draining rainwater underground and protecting the reflector, Sun said.
The surrounding area has “radio silence” as there are no towns and
cities within a sphere of five km and only one county center within a
sphere of 25 km, he said.
The huge dish is actually hung over the ground supported by thousands
of steel pillars and cables. There will be maintenance passages under
it.
To overlook the whole reflector, visitors have to climb up to the top
of one of the hills. A hill-top observation platform is under
construction and will be open to the public, Sun said.
Not only will it be huge, the new telescope is also very sensitive.
The dish can shift to receive radio from different angles, said Zheng
Yuanpeng, chief engineer of the telescope’s panel project.
“Panels can change their positions through connected wires and parallel
robots. We can control their position with an accuracy of 1 mm,” Zheng
said.
The new telescope is expected to greatly enhance Chinese scientists’ capacity to observe outer space.
Wu Xiangping, director-general of Chinese Astronomical Society, said
that for years Chinese scientists have worked on “second hand” data
collected by others and failed to achieve breakthrough.
“Having a more sensitive telescope, we can receive weaker and more
distant radio messages. It will help us to search for intelligent life
outside of the galaxy and explore the origins of the universe,” Wu said.
The construction of the telescope began in March 2011 and is set to finish next year.

The world’s largest radio telescope, with a dish that could fit 30
football fields, is currently being assembled in the mountains of
Guizhou province.
Once complete, the single-aperture spherical telescope, called FAST,
will surpass the Arecibo Observatory telescope in Puerto Rico to become
the biggest in the world. FAST’s reflector measures 500 meters in
diameter and is made up of 4,450 triangular-shaped panels with sides 11
meters long. Technicians claim that it’ll be 10 times more agile than Germany’s Effelsberg 100-m Radio Telescope.
largest-telescope-2.jpg
The larger dish will allow the telescope to pick up weaker signals.
FAST is tucked away in a bowl-like valley surrounded by hills, and with
no towns or cities within a five-kilometer radius, has optimal “radio
silence”, according to Xinhua. So much so that experts believe the telescope may be able to detect signs of alien life.
“Having a more sensitive telescope, we can receive weaker and more
distant radio messages. It will help us to search for intelligent life
outside of the galaxy and explore the origins of the universe,” said Wu
Xiangping, director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society.
The FAST project was introduced in 2007 and construction began in
2011. Work on the telescope’s reflector just took off yesterday
afternoon and it is expected to be finished by next year.

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