The world’s largest telescope will be completed this week in China and it has scientists very, very excited.With a whopping 1,640 feet (500 meter) wide dish the size of 30 football fields, the telescope will able to detect radio signals — and potentially signs of life — from distant planets.
“China’s latest telescope will be able to look faster and further than past searches for extraterrestrial intelligence,” says Douglas Vakoch, president of METI International, an organization dedicated to detecting alien intelligence.
Cradled in a karst hollow in the mountainous landscape of southwest China, the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST starts operation September 25.It’s a process known by astronomers as “first light” — when a telescope opens its eyes and takes its first pictures of the universe.
And FAST is wide eyed: its field of vision is almost twice as big as the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico that has been the world’s biggest single aperture telescope for the past 53 years.Construction of the $185 million mega project began in 2011, with the last of the 4,450 triangular panels that form the dish painstakingly lowered into place in July this year.
While the structure itself is too big to move, each of the panels can be adjusted.”You can control the surface to point at certain points in the sky. A mesh of steel ropes allows a hydraulic push and pull mechanism,” says Andreas Wicenec, professor of Data Intensive Research at the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research in Australia.