China science

Fast work from China’s giant radio telescope helps scientists make early discoveries

Senior researchers say discovery of pulsars thousands of light years from earth makes for a ‘truly encouraging’ beginning for project

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 3:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 11:19pm

The world’s largest single-dish radio telescope has found two pulsars after one year of trial operations, state news agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday.

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.

How noisy Chinese tourists may be drowning out alien signals at the world’s biggest telescope

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.

When fully operational, the sheer scale and complexity of the telescope could potentially lead to major discoveries in astronomy.

China is offering over a million dollars for a foreigner to run the world’s largest telescope, so why is nobody applying?

The large state investment involved in the project, which is 22 years in the making, highlights China’s clear ambition to become a global science and technology powerhouse.

China is ranked second only to the United States in terms of scientific investment and the number of scientific research papers published, according to the BBC.

The second-largest radio telescope on Earth, at 305 metres wide, is at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

It is most famous for sending out a radio signal “message” in 1974 containing basic information about humanity and Earth, in the hope that extraterrestrials will receive it.