The world's largest single-dish radio telescope 'FAST' began its operation in China today, state-run China Xinhua news reported.
The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), made up of 4,450 reflecting panels and about the size of 30 soccer fields, would help in better understanding the origin of the universe and boost global hunt for extraterrestrial life, according to Indian news agency PTI.
Hundreds of astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts witnessed the official launch in a karst valley in Pingtang County.
"FAST will enable Chinese astronomers to jump-start many scientific goals, such as surveying the neutral hydrogen in the Milky Way, detecting faint pulsars, and listening to possible signals from other civilizations," NAN Rendong, the general engineer and chief scientist of FAST had said before the launch.
FAST would help in better understanding the origin of the universe and boost global hunt for extraterrestrial life,
Seventeen years after it was proposed, the work on nearly 1.15 billion-yuan (USD 180 million) project started by the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC), under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in 2011, according to PTI.
The telescope has been constructed in Dawodang in southeastern China's Guizhou Province, surrounded by karst formations that block radio frequency interference, according to the official website.
It has replaced Puerto-Rico's Arecibo Observatory in not just size but features as well with "larger sky coverage, with a light-weight, high precision feed cabin which can be adjusted," according to official sources.
The telescope has been constructed from thousands of differently shaped segments in a "cable-net structure, comprisingof thousands of steel cables, nodes and corresponding driving cables, which are tied to actuators on the ground," forming a parabolic surface.
Interestingly, just two days before the telescope's big operational launch, reknowned Stephen Hawking in a 25 minute film cautioned from contacting aliens.
"Our first contact from an advanced civilisation could be equivalent to when Native Americans first encountered Christopher Columbus and things “didn’t turn out so well”, The Guardian quoted him saying.