China has unveiled the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), the largest radio telescope in the world, on Sunday. The radio telescope, which is sensitive enough to capture cellphone signals from the moon, could make China important in the world of science, scientists say.
It would still take Chinese scientists at least three years of making adjustments to FAST but in a recent trial observation, the radio telescope already detected a set of high-quality electromagnetic waves sent from a pulsar, which is believed to be a rapidly rotating neutron star. According to Qian Lei, an associate researcher with the National Astronomical Observation (NAO) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the signals were located 1,351 light years away.
It cost $180 million to make and gained infamy for displacing 8,000 people from their homes. At 500 meters, it is 195 meters wider than the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the former largest radio telescope.
Apart from observing pulsars, FAST is also designed to investigate interstellar molecules as well as interstellar communication signals. Chinese scientists also expect to discover two times more pulsars than other telescopes. They are optimistic that they could reveal more about gravitational waves and general relativity theory.
While the telescope would still undergo further adjustment in the first two or three years, it will already be used for early stage research by Chinese scientists. As soon as this will be completed, FAST will then be made open to all scientists around the globe.
Before it was completed, the building of FAST was heavily criticized. Reports reveal that thousands lost their homes from this project but the Chinese government insists that these locals will be resettled in 600 apartments located 10 kilometers from their original homes. They would also receive cash or new housing as well as employment in the tourism and support services for the FAST project.
Tourists can go to the site, which is still on a trial basis. Nevertheless, it is expected that around 2,000 individuals will visit the observation deck to view FAST, all of whom will pay 368 yuan or $55 each. The site would also be the home of a telescope-themed park with a 5,000-square meter planetarium.