After listening intently to the sounds of the universe for 15 months, the world’s largest filled-aperture radio telescope is now available to all scientists who wish to use it.
The colossal structure, roughly the size of 30 football fields, is capable of spotting objects 13.7 billion light years away and is potentially humankind’s latest alien-hunting device.
The 500m Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) will consider applications from foreign scientists, allotting 10% observation time to foreign applicants within the first year of FAST’s use, according to a statement by the Chinese National Academy of Sciences’ National Observatories of China (NAOC). Results will be announced on 20 July.
Known as ‘Tianyan’, or, ‘Sky Eye’, FAST is located between several densely forested hills in the jungles of Pintang County, southwest China.
FAST’s surface is made from 4 500 panels that, through the use of a series of cables suspended above the structure, can move in real-time, allowing FAST to focus on signals from multiple directions.
Construction began in 2011 and
when the last nut was fastened, $171 million had been spent on development.
In 2017, FAST discovered two pulsars – dead stars with an incredible magnetic presence – unknown to scientists at the time.
The pulsars, named FP1 and FP2, were found to be 16 000 and 4 100 light-years away respectively.
Since then the gigantic silver
dish in the jungle has discovered many more. Every so often a pulsar
may emit an intense beam of radiation which FAST picks up as a radio
When FAST was not studying pulsars, it was used to observe hydrogen gas in our home galaxy, the Milky Way, as well as four other galaxies where atomic hydrogen is present, to further understand the universe’s most abundant element.
FAST has garnered huge amounts of attention from the scientific community at large and, when the inevitable topic of aliens was brought up, FAST chief scientist, Li Di, said the mega telescope had the potential to detect signals from planets with similar or superior technology to humans.
When discussing the potential risks attached to broadcasting signals across the universe, Nobel prize winners, Dr Sheldon Glashow and Dr Joseph Taylor Jr expressed little concern.
The physicists said FAST only
acts as a receiver and cannot broadcast powerful enough signals to reach
distant listeners. Both did say that the FAST telescope was likely to make many
more discoveries, perhaps unearthing another Nobel winner.
Li said that NAOC is planning on building a second FAST in Guizhou with the hope of one day establishing a FAST network.