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FAST radio telescope switched on in China

September 26, 2016

China has switched on its Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in southwest China's Guizhou Province.

The world's largest radio telescope officially started operating on Sunday, launching its mission to explore space and to search for extraterrestrial life.

Installation of the telescope's 4,450-panel reflector was completed in July. At 500 meters across, it is much bigger than the 300-meter Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the previous record holder.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory letter to scientists, engineers and builders on the launch, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Joseph Taylor, a Nobel Prize-winning astronomer at Princeton University, told Xinhua that FAST will "generate enthusiasm, bring people into science, and make China important in the world of science".

The telescope will be used to observe pulsars as well as to explore interstellar molecules and interstellar communication signals.

A recent trial observation detected high-quality electromagnetic waves sent from a pulsar about 1,351 light-years away, said Qian Lei, an associate researcher with the National Astronomical Observation (NAO) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which is behind the project.

Sun Caihong, deputy chief technologist, said that scientists expect FAST to discover twice the number of pulsars as are currently known and to make breakthroughs in the study of gravitational waves and general relativity theory.

For the next two or three years, the telescope will undergo further adjustment and will be used exclusively by Chinese scientists for early stage research. After that, it will be open to scientists around the world.

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