Scientists in China have powered up the world’s largest radio telescope, setting in motion the state’s search for extraterrestrial life and distant stars.
The super-sensitive dish, built to scan the universe for radio waves, is now entering a phase of intensive testing following a five year construction.
Calibrating the Five Hundred Metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (Fast) will take three years, but scientists say it will start carrying out research immediately.
Prof Peng Bo, Fast’s deputy project manager, told the BBC the telescope had already spotted radiowaves sent by pulsars, extremely dense, spinning stars.
He added: “For many years, we have had to go outside of China to make observations - and now we have the largest telescope. People can’t wait to use it.”
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Foreign researchers will be invited to apply to conduct work at the facility as soon as testing is complete, the scientists said.
After finishing the installation in July, Zheng Xiaonian, deputy head of China’s National Astronomical Observation, told state media:
“The project has the potential to search for more strange objects to better understand the origin of the universe and boost the global hunt for extraterrestrial life.”
Fast is just the latest project designed to establish China’s reputation as a leader in space exploration.
The state hopes to put a man on the moon by 2036, after completing the first module of the Chinese space station in 2018.
Officials are relocating as many as 9,000 people living within a 5km radius of the telescope’s site in Pintang County, Guizhou to ensure radio silence in the area.
The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico previously held the record for the world’s largest telescope, measuring 300m in diameter.