fast advances universe exploration
aerial view of the five-hundred-meter aperture spherical radio telescope (fast). (photo: xinhua)
by lin yuchen
the five-hundred-meter aperture spherical radio telescope (fast), dubbed china sky eye, recently captured the biggest atomic gas structure ever found in the universe, opening the door to further our understanding of universe gas evolution.
the find, published in nature on october 19, was led by xu cong, head of an international team at chinese academy of sciences (cas), representing another major achievement of the joint efforts of chinese and foreign scientists through fast.
in april, 2021, fast officially began to open up to global astronomers, allocating over 7,000 hours for the 27 observation projects by scientists from 14 foreign countries by august 2021.
in september this year, china and u.s. astronomers, led by the national astronomical observatories under cas, filmed a world first magnetic ebb and flow of a fast radio burst within the milky way, furthering exploration of how fast radio bursts may happen.
additionally, an international team led by li di, researcher with the national astronomical observatories under cas, published a study in nature in october 2021, recording the largest set of fast radio burst events in history through fast, which may help clarify the origins of the so -called mysterious signals from deep space.
the opening up of fast contributes china's experience to the construction of a community with a shared future for humanity, and promotes international sci-tech development and the progress of human civilization.
world's best sensitivity
the gigantic fast telescope, with its diameter of 500 meters, is 195 meters wider than the arecibo observatory in puerto rico, the second-largest telescope of its kind.
being 2.5 times more sensitive than the arecibo observatory, fast is the most sensitive spherical radio telescope in the world. it is equipped with large motors, able to change the shape of its reflective surface, allowing the telescope to scan larger swathes of the sky.
according to cas, the telescope's exquisite sensitivity will enable astronomers to get a jumpstart on many scientific goals, like surveying evidence which would shed light on the origin and evolution of the universe, and detect thousands of new pulsars, which could assist in establishing the law of extreme objects.
by july, 2022, over 660 new pulsars had been identified through fast, exceeding the number of discoveries made by all other telescopes in the same period combined worldwide. over 100 high-quality observation results using fast have been published by this date.
"the development of fast has entered into a golden period. its stable operation of observation equipment made a great contribution to this," said jiang peng, chief engineer of fast, adding that adequate observation time and outstanding signal capture ability allowed fast to perform better than other radio telescopes.
since fast completed its testing period and entered into full operation in 2020, the telescope's operation time has reached 6,200 hours per year by 2022.
approved by the national development and reform commission in july 2007, the construction of fast among the jagged rocks and peaks in southwestern china in 2014 cost 1.2 billion rmb.
several goals have been set out for fast, including probing the universe using radio wavelengths, hunting for faint pulsars, mapping neutral hydrogen in distant galaxies, and searching for signs of extraterrestrial communications and intelligence.
the telescope also joined the breakthrough listen project in october 2016, to search for intelligent extraterrestrial communications in the universe. scientists announced the first observation with the telescope in february, 2020.