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The world’s largest radio telescope will search for signs of life in space

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 8 jun 2020, 6:40 por Plataforma Sites Dgac   [ actualizado el 9 oct 2020, 11:18 ]
In addition to space agencies and private companies such as NASA and SpaceX, astronomers and space technicians continue to work tirelessly to have better tools to scrutinize the secrets of the cosmos.

Images of the FAST radio telescope, the largest in the world, located at Guizhou, in Southeast China.
On January 11, 2020, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua revealed that the world’s largest radio telescope had begun to operate to its full potential. The colossal instrument was named FAST and is located in a natural depression in Guizhou, in southwestern China.

FAST is the acronym for “Five Hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Telescope”. Its construction, which cost 180 million dollars, began in 2011 and although it began to operate for the first time in 2016, since then it has been carrying out tests, adjustments and improvements. 

Eye in the sky

FAST’s nickname is “Tianyan”, which means “Eye in the Sky.” One of its scientific goals is the study of pulsars (highly magnetized rotating neutron stars) and in August, 2017, it discovered two of them.

Because it is a huge and very powerful radio telescope, scientists believe it will be able to make great astronomical discoveries, especially during its first years of operation at its full potential, said Jiang Peng, chief engineer of the radio telescope. In fact, during its testing period, in just two years, FAST has identified 102 new pulsars.

As it is half a kilometer in diameter, it is larger than the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which at 305 meters in diameter was the largest in its category before FAST began to operate.

Its creators hope that the signals captured by the radio telescope will serve to unravel mysteries related to the origin and evolution of the Universe. Its scientific goals include the search for gravitational waves, dark matter probes and even the detection of interstellar communication signals from eventual extraterrestrial civilizations. 

Long-term work 

FAST will do two complete scans of the sky that will take about five years and it will take scientists another 10 years just to analyze all the collected data, although it will also have operational flexibility for use on other issues that arise.

The mappings will take about half the radio telescope’s observation time, allowing for targets such as searching for exoplanets with magnetic fields, which are likely essential for the existence of life. 

One of the aspects that most interests scientists is the ability of the FAST to detect “rapid radio bursts”, intense energetic events that last only thousandths of a second.

The origin of these bursts is still an enigma for astronomers, so any advance in this matter will be very well received. 

The FAST has the ability to collect radio waves in an area twice as large as the Arecibo telescope, in Puerto Rico, and “it will be an excellent tool to detect and study the faintest fast radio bursts,” told Victoria Kaspi, an astrophysicist at McGill University in Canada, to BBC World.