For the last half decade, researchers in China have been at work on a gigantic radio telescope hailed as the world’s largest single dish radio telescope. That monster telescope completed construction on July 3, 2016 with the installation of the last of its 4,450 reflecting panels. The telescope is equivalent in size to 30 soccer fields and is called the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope or FAST.
With construction complete the scientists on the project are now counting down to when the telescope will see its first light in two to three months. FAST is significantly larger than the previous record holder the Arecibo telescope at 300-meters. The larger FAST telescope is much larger and more sensitive and is able to cover a larger area of the sky thanks to a lightweight adjustable feed cabin.
Installation of the main reflector of the telescope began in August 2015 taking 11 months to install the 4,273 triangular segments of the reflector and the 177 special shaped segments. Those segments are set into a cable-net structure that is made of thousands of steel cables, nodes, and drive cables tied to actuators on the ground that transform from spherical to a parabolic surface.
FAST is located in Dawodang, Kedu Town in the southeastern China Guizhou Province famous for mountains that are able to shield the telescope against radio frequency interference. The Chinese government approved the project in 2007 and construction spanned 5.5-years and cost an estimated 1.15 billion Yuan, or about $180 million. The FAST team will be testing and debugging the telescope over the next few months with an official completion date in September.
“FAST will enable Chinese astronomers to jump-start many scientific goals, such as surveying the neutral hydrogen in the Milky Way, detecting faint pulsars, and listening to possible signals from other civilizations,” said NAN Rendong, the general engineer and chief scientist of FAST.