FAST — China’s $180 million radio telescope helps scientists on early discoveries

South China Morning Post

The pulsars were discovered on August 22 and 25 by researchers from the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC), according to chief scientist Li Di.

Named J1859-01 and J1931-01, the pulsars are 16,000 light years and 4,100 light years from Earth respectively.

The discoveries were confirmed by Australia’s Parkes radio telescope last month, the report said.

Pulsars are spinning collapsed stars larger than the sun, which emit flickering beams of radiation across the universe that can only be detected by sensitive telescopes.

Completed in September last year, the telescope is named Fast (the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope) and covers an area roughly the size of 30 soccer pitches, making it the world’s biggest radio telescope.

“It is truly encouraging to have achieved such results within just one year,” Peng Bo, deputy director of Fast, was quoted as saying.

The telescope is a third of the way through its three-year initial testing phase.

It is situated in a large natural sinkhole in Pingtang county in southwest China’s Guizhou province.

The telescope’s mission is to “listen” for pulsars and other interstellar radio signals which might give clues about how the universe first formed, as well as finding possible signs of extraterrestrial life.

According to Xinhua, the telescope cost 1.2 billion yuan, or US$180 million, and took five years to build.

The project displaced 8,000 people living nearby to create the 5km radius of silence needed for the telescope to work properly.