FAST, the world’s largest telescope, starts operating in China
FAST, the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope the size of 30 football fields, started operating on Sunday and could boost the search for alien life.
The Five hundred metre Aperture Spherical Telescope, to give it its full name, is so large it had to be built into a valley in Guizhou province in south-west China.
It 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.
The telescope is has a diameter 200 m wider than the second largest equivalent telescope and could boost scientists' ability to peer into the furthest reaches of space.
"The launch of FAST symbolises a major breakthrough in China's science research and has great significance for the country's strategy to push forward innovation," Chinese president Xi Jinping said.
"The ultimate goal of FAST is to discover the laws of the development of the universe," said Qian Lei, an associate researcher with the National Astronomical Observation, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which built the telescope.
"In theory, if there is civilisation in outer space, the radio signal it sends will be similar to the signal we can receive when a radiation beam from a pulsar (spinning neutron star) is approaching us."
The telescope 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 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.”