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China Breakthroughs: Building the world's largest radio telescope with pride

Editor: Qian Ding 丨CCTV.com

10-20-2017 14:09 BJT

Full coverage: China Breakthroughs

By Tom McGregor, CCTV.com Panview commentator and editor

Does the world really need another giant radio telescope? Yet before answering the question, one should ask, "What is a radio telescope?" According to the Cambridge Online Dictionary, it is a "device for receiving scientific study, the electromagnetic waves sent out by objects in outer-space."

Radio telescopes are instruments that can detect movements in our galaxies, such as identifying new planets, stars and potential life forms in outer-space and beyond.

Until recently, the world's largest radio telescope can be found at Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory with a dish, 300-m. wide in diameter. However, Chinese scientist have installed the final panel of its 500-m. wide radio telescope in late June 2016. The Aperture Spherical Telescope, known as FAST, is located in Pingtan County, China's southwest Guizhou Province.

 The Aperture Spherical Telescope, known as FAST, is located in Pingtan County, China's southwest Guizhou Province.

Construction completed ahead of schedule

The Chinese government selected a site in Guizhou Province due to its isolated location so as to avoid outside radio-waves interference. It stands in the Karst Valley surrounded by three hills that offer a natural background for receiving electromagnetic waves without interference.

Construction had started in March 2011, while all of its panels were fully-installed two months ahead of schedule. The radio telescope was built with new technology and materials that were mainly ‘Made in China.’

"As the world's largest single aperture telescope located at an extremely radio-quiet-site," Nan Redang, chief scientist for FAST told China.Org.cn. "It's scientific impact on astronomy will be extraordinary and it will certainly revolutionize other areas of natural sciences."

The massive reflector holds 4,450 panels with an overall size covering about 30 football fields and took a total investment -1.2bn. RMB.

Adapting new technologies

Beijing has embarked on a nationwide campaign to encourage more entrepreneurship, innovations, along with science & technology upgrades to create a new era for China that embraces science & technology to resolve societal ills and make life easier for all individuals.

Hence, plans are underway to launch the 'core module' for China's first space station in 2018, which is expected to transform our understanding of aerospace and aeronautics.

To coincide with space station preparations, the FAST had already started operating in in September 2016. Chinese scientists have been assigned to conduct one to two years of early testing for debugging and to launch trial test-runs. Afterwards, FAST will be open-sourced for scientists from all over the world to understand better what is happening in outer space.

Peng Bo, director of China's NAO (National Astronomical Organization) Radio Astronomy Technology Laboratory, said FAST would enable scientists working at their home bases in a 2,000-km. radius (including Beijing) to participate in experiments, via remote control channels and observations.

Search for ET continues

Some global media outlets have reported on China's research on extra-terrestrials as the main narrative for explaining the so-called real purpose of building FAST.

Studying life in outer-space has long mesmerized science-fiction fans and UFO (unidentified flying objects) enthusiasts for over a century.

They hold high hopes, FAST will prove once-and-for-all that galactic aliens do exist and could live in harmony with human beings here on Earth.

Highly-acclaimed sci-fi author, Liu Cixin, award-winner of the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel, was one of 300 spectators standing in attendance in Pingtan County to witness the installation of the final panel for the FAST radio telescope.

"The telescope is of great significance for humans to explore the universe and extra-terrestrial civilizations," Liu told Xinhua news agency. "I hope scientists can make epoch-making discoveries."

The FAST has capabilities to uncover ET through detecting gravitational waves and amino acids found in realms that are found beyond the Milky Way. The radio telescope has been enabled to survey neutral hydrogens and faint pulsars in distant galaxies.

New advances make new science

The FAST dish can cover a collective area - 196,000m2. Meanwhile, new instruments were adapted into the panels to analyze incoming radio-waves. Such receivers can even pick up mobile phone calls from Mars, so perhaps some day in the future if humans inhabit the Red Planet, people can make a long-distance orbital call from the Earth.

Additionally, transmitters record transient events down to timescales of nanoseconds, coinciding with multi-beam receivers to observe several galaxies at once. The scientific upgrades demonstrate how China is moving fast-forward with science & technology innovations.

Chinese scientists have been coordinating with scientists from other countries to ensure that all data obtained can help the global scientific community analyze the information gleamed from FAST.

As reported by the Sky And Telescope website, "FAST will also use the Next Generation Archive System (NGAS) developed by the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Perth, Australia, and the European Southern Observatory to store and maintain the large amount of data it's expected to collect."

Additionally, "NGAS expects to handle about 3 petabytes (3 × 1015 bytes) of data from FAST every year, enough to fill 120,000 single-layer, 25-gigabyte Blu-ray disks."

(The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )

Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

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