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Chinese super telescope

Aerial view of FAST: between mountains and forests, a 500-meter reflector

NAOCAerial view of FAST: between mountains and forests, a 500-meter reflectorNAOC

After nearly six years under construction, a Chinese radio telescope with a reflector 500 meters (m) in diameter, the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical RadioTelescope (FAST), should be up and running in three months. The final stage was announced in early July 2016: installation of the last 4,450 reflecting panels. Built at a total estimated cost of $180 million in an area equivalent to 30 soccer fields, the telescope will detect neutral hydrogen in the Milky Way as well as pulsars and possible signals from other civilizations, according to Nan Rendong, chief scientist for the project. FAST will be larger than the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico that measures 305 m in diameter. The world’s largest is still Ratan-600, with a reflector 576 m in diameter, operating in Russia since 1974. When completed, it will make astrophysics research in China highly competitive for at least 10 years, says Yan Jan, director general of the telescope project. Linked to the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC), FAST was proposed in 1994. After a decade of research, scientists found the most suitable location in Dawodang, in Guizhou Province in southwestern China, where mountains act as a natural barrier to interference from radio frequencies. Construction began on the reflector, the key component, in August 2015. In 11 months, 4,273 triangular parts were installed on a structure of steel cables to form a parabolic surface.