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China completes giant new radio telescope

July 11, 2016

China has completed installation work for the world's largest radio telescope, located in Pingtang County in the southwestern province of Guizhou.

The last of 4,450 panels was fitted into the centre of the big dish on Sunday July 3, state news agency Xinhua reported.

The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) is the size of 30 football fields and it will be used to explore space and look for extraterrestrial life.

Before it starts operating, scientists will conduct debugging and trial observation, explained Zheng Xiaonian, deputy head of the National Astronomical Observation (NAO) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which built the telescope.

The FAST 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, Zheng said.

Over the next two or three years the telescope will undergo further adjustment, and during that period Chinese scientists will use it for early-stage research. It will then be open to scientists worldwide, said Peng Bo, director of the NAO Radio Astronomy Technology Laboratory.

According to a report in the South China Morning Post, FAST will be able to collect radio waves from previously undetectable distances in space. Its mission is to survey neutral hydrogen in the Milky Way and other galaxies, detect faint pulsars, look for the first shining stars and listen for possible signals from other civilisations.

FAST's surface will be able to adjust in different directions and cover the sky within 40 degrees of the zenith, the newspaper said. In contrast, Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory, currently the world's largest radio telescope, has a 20 degree range.

Built at a cost of CNY1.2bn ($180m), FAST is due to start operating in September.

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