The Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) telescope is the largest single-antenna radio telescope in the world and the second largest telescope in the world after Russia’s RATAN-600.
It is located in a natural basin in Pingtang County, Guizhou, in southwestern China.
Constraints related to the location of the instrument made its construction difficult. The engineers took five years to develop it. The test phase took three years.
The antenna, consisting of approximately 4,400 aluminum panels, is 500 meters in diameter.
Astronomers around the world are eager to scan the sky through the largest satellite dish on the planet. It has a great sensitivity to cosmic phenomena such as rapid radio bursts and pulsars.
FAST is able to accumulate an impressive amount of data. “I’m super excited to use it,” said Maura McLaughlin, a West Virginia astronomer.
The instrument should allow many innovative discoveries. It is designed to determine the distribution of neutral hydrogen in the near universe and probably the characteristics of dark matter.
It should also allow the detection of interstellar chemical species including OH, CH3OH, and many more.
During the tests, FAST allowed the detection of a hundred pulsars at once. These were added to the two thousand already known in 2017. In theory, this number would represent only 3% of the total number.
It also detected hundreds of fast radio bursts from a single source.
The instrument could also contribute to the realization of the very long baseline interferometer, or VLBI for Very Long Baseline Interferometry.
This is an astronomical interferometry technique used in radio astronomy. It collects and correlates data obtained from different antennas.
One of the main goals of FAST is the detection of signals from extraterrestrial civilizations.
Indeed, the data collected by the telescope could finally help to know more about the subject. Nevertheless, we should first find a way to store them.