China has put the finishing touches on the world’s biggest radio telescope, whose 1650-foot-wide dish will scan the heavens for signs of intelligent alien life, among other tasks, of course.
On Sunday (July 3 2016), technicians installed the last of the 4,450 panels that make up the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope’s (FAST) giant dish, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Project team members will soon begin testing and debugging FAST, after which Chinese scientists will use it for “early-stage research,” Xinhua reported. But the instrument will be available to researchers around the world when that phase is over — likely two to three years from now.
With a dish the size of 30 football fields, FAST is by far the largest single-aperture telescope in the world (though arrays that link up multiple radio dishes cover more ground). The previous record holder in the field is the 1,000-foot-wide (300 meters) Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
FAST was built in China’s Guizhou Province, more than 1,240 miles (2,000 kilometers) southwest of Beijing. The 1.2-billion-yuan ($180 million) facility should help scientists learn more about the universe’s early days, detect low-frequency gravitational waves and hunt for signals that may have been produced by distant alien civilizations, project officials said.
The FAST site was once home to a village of 65 people, who were relocated in 2009, according to Xinhua. The Chinese government plans to resettle an additional 9,110 people currently living within 3 miles (5 km) of the telescope by the end of September, the news agency added.