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China to play key role in building more powerful telescopes

October 24, 2016

China is expected to play a leading role in building new, powerful telescopes to observe distant galaxies.

Astronomers recently estimated that there might be 10 times more galaxies in the universe than previously thought. But to observe the "missing" galaxies we need more powerful telescopes.

"Evidence for 10 times more galaxies, invisible to current telescopes, strongly motivates the development and construction of next-generation telescopes, such as space telescopes and giant ground-based facilities, as well as the invention of new observational strategies," Zheng Cai, Hubble Fellow at the University of California, told China's Xinhua news agency last week.

In the field of future telescopes, China is becoming "a strong player," Cai added.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has also emphasized that astronomy is crucial to propelling scientific progress and innovation.

"Two upcoming Chinese telescope projects are ideal tools for observing distant galaxies," explained Xue Suijian, professor and deputy director of the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

These projects—a two-meter space-station optical telescope and a 12-meter ground-based optical telescope—are among a series of large-scale astronomical projects to be undertaken by China.

According to Chen Xuelei, a professor at the NAOC, the sensitivity of the two-meter telescope will be comparable to that of the Hubble Deep Field observation but it will observe a much larger area of the sky.

Construction of the 12-meter ground-based telescope will potentially start in 2019, most likely in Tibet, Xinhua reported. This will be a stepping stone toward international cooperation on a larger-scale, 30-meter-class telescope, called the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) International Observatory, a cooperative project involving the United States, Canada, China, India and Japan.

"As a founding member of the TMT International Observatory, China is making significant high-technology contributions to this world-leading facility," commented Mao Shude, professor and director of the Center for Astrophysics at China's Tsinghua University and a member of the TMT board of governors.

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