26Sep2016

China’s Giant Telescope “Discoveries Beyond Wildest Imagination”

Photo taken on Sept. 24, 2016 shows the 500-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in Pingtang County, southwest China's Guizhou Province. The FAST, world's largest radio telescope, measuring 500 meters in diameter, was completed and put into use on Sunday. (Xinhua/Ou Dongqu)

Photo taken on Sept. 24, 2016 shows the 500-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in Pingtang County, southwest China’s Guizhou Province. The FAST, world’s largest radio telescope, measuring 500 meters in diameter, was completed and put into use on Sunday. (Xinhua/Ou Dongqu)

China’s 500-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) may help better understand the origin and structure of the universe and solve some long standing puzzles.

It will also accelerate and even revolutionize the search for life beyond Earth, a renowned U.S. alien intelligence expert said. FAST, the world’s largest single-dish telescope with a diameter of a half kilometer, is expected to go online on Sunday. It is located at the Dawodang depression, a natural basin or “karst” in Pingtang County in the mountainous southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou.

The telescope, nicknamed Tianyan, or the Eye of Heaven, can accurately image twice as much the sky as the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which had previously been the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, with double sensitivity and five to 10 times the surveying speed.

Douglas Vakoch, president of METI International, an organization promoting messaging outer space in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, noted that astronomers worldwide will be invited to use the facility through a competitive review of observing proposals.

“By opening FAST to use by the broader international community, China is demonstrating its commitment to fostering astronomy as a global scientific enterprise,” he told Xinhua, saying it may lead to “discoveries beyond our wildest imagination.”

As for FAST’s scientific missions, Vakoch said it will be used to look for the signatures of complex organic molecules in interstellar space, which will show how widely the basic building blocks of life are distributed throughout the cosmos.

“For over a half century, astronomers have been using radio telescopes to answer the haunting question, ‘Are we alone?’ But astronomers face a daunting challenge: the signals they seek are so weak that an incredibly sensitive telescope is needed to detect them,” he said.

Image result for China's Giant Telescope

Construction: It takes more than five years to build the world’s biggest single-aperture radio telescope. It’s on schedule for completion in 2016

“FAST’s innovative design and huge collecting area give it unsurpassed speed and sensitivity, making it vital to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence in the coming decades,” said Vakoch. “We can expect China to become a world leader in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence because of its demonstrated commitment in building FAST.”

However, FAST will not initially be outfitted with the signal processing capabilities to search for aliens, he said. This technology will be added at a later stage, and when that happens, FAST will be able to scan the heavens for signals that “can’t be created by nature, but only by advanced civilizations,” Vakoch said.

Based on the recent history of radio telescopes, he also predicted that FAST will lead to “a dramatic increase in the number and variety of pulsars discovered.” Pulsars, one of FAST’s main scientific objectives, are dense, rotating stars that act as cosmic clocks, emitting pulses with remarkable regularity.

This could also provide scientists with the capability to detect gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time, from pairs of massive black holes, since FAST has the potential to precisely measure tiny changes of the pulsing rates of pulsars as the gravitational waves pass by.

Vakoch highlighted FAST’s role in underpinning China’s space program, noting that China has made great breakthroughs in space exploration, such as putting humans into Earth orbit and having taikonauts to dock with an orbiting module as a first step toward developing a Chinese space station.

“With the opening of FAST, China continues to demonstrate that it is a world leader in space exploration, now from an Earth-based observatory as well as from space,” he added. “Astronomers around the world can be grateful to China for creating an observatory that may lead to discoveries beyond our wildest imagination.” Source: Xinhua | English.news.cn

Australian Technology Installed On Largest Single-Dish Radio Telescope

The world’s largest filled single-dish radio telescope launched yesterday, and it relies on a piece of West Australian innovation. The telescope—known as FAST—uses a data system developed at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy (ICRAR) in Perth and the European Southern Observatory to manage the huge amounts of data it generates.

The software is called the Next Generation Archive System (NGAS), and will help astronomers using the telescope to search for rotating neutron stars and look for signs of extra-terrestrial life. FAST, or the Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, is so large it had to be built into a valley in Guizhou province in south-west China.

The NGAS data system will help to collect, transport and store about three petabytes of information a year from the telescope. “That’s a hundred thousand 32GB iPods filled every year,” said Professor Andreas Wicenec, who heads up ICRAR’s ICT program and helped design the data system.

“Getting that kind of capacity is not too hard anymore but the main challenge is transporting so much data and having the network bandwidth to move it around.” FAST will be one of the most sensitive telescopes ever built, and the huge amounts of data produced will allow astronomers to map hydrogen gas in the Milky Way, hunt for rotating neutron stars known as pulsars and look for signals from extraterrestrial intelligence.

It is an official pathfinder to the multi-billion dollar Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, to be built in Western Australia and South Africa. Professor Wicenec says China marks the latest conquest for the NGAS data system, which is already used on telescopes including the European Southern Observatory, the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Murchison Widefield Array in outback Western Australia.

“For us it’s quite exciting to install NGAS on yet another telescope because the system is now being used all around the world,” he said. “China is one of the few regions we hadn’t covered yet.”

More Information:

The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) is a joint venture between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia with support and funding from the State Government of Western Australia.

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