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China's FAST radio telescope ready to begin work

September 23, 2016

China's Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) is ready to start operating on September 25.

FAST is the world's largest radio telescope, overtaking the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico which is 300 meters in diameter.

Its dish, comprised of 4,450 triangular panels, will be used to survey the distribution of hydrogen in distant galaxies and to detect faint pulsars. These dense, rotating stars can help scientists study gravitational waves, shedding light on how galaxies evolved.

Scientists will also use the telescope to look for amino acids and signs of life from distant planets.

"FAST's potential to discover an alien civilization will be five to 10 (times) that of current equipment, as it can see farther and darker planets," Peng Bo, director of the NAO Radio Astronomy Technology Laboratory, told China's Xinhua news agency.

Installation of the telescope's panels was completed in July and last week the 30-ton feed cabin was hoisted 130 meters above the telescope's reflector.

It is now receiving signals, and scientists have been conducting debugging work and trial observation.

China's ambitious space program also includes the recent launch of the Tiangong-2 space lab, a precursor to a space station. In October two Chinese astronauts are scheduled to go into space and work in Tiangong-2 for 30 days before re-entering Earth's atmosphere.

According to a CNN report, the country's longer term goals include putting a man on the moon and sending a robotic probe to Mars. The FAST telescope could help track these missions.

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