China to Allow Foreign Scientists to Use World's Largest Radio Telescope

By Joshua Cawthorpe, January 5, 2021

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China recently announced that foreign scientists will be allowed to apply for permission to use FAST (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope) for the first time since its completion in 2016.

Based in Guizhou province, the telescope is double the size of the next largest single-disc telescope, the Arecibo Observatory, making it the best in the world for detecting the faintest radio waves from extremely distant reaches of the universe.

This can include pulsars, the spinning cores of dead stars and it can locate hydrogen in distant galaxies — somehow, according to Nature

However, the facility already has projects underway in search of new planets and alien civilizations.

READ MORE: China's Massive Telescope and the Global Quest to Find Aliens

The announcement comes just over one month after the Arecibo Observatory telescope in Puerto Rico collapsed to the dismay of astronomers worldwide. The damage was a result of increasingly devastating hurricanes as well as some questionable maintenance in recent years. 

Check out the video below to see it collapse (VPN off):

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico collapsing on December 1 at 8am. Video via CNET Highlights/Youtube

Starting April 1, 2021, applications will be accepted from foreign researchers. Ten percent of the time available to conduct experiments will be granted to foreign researchers and are expected to begin by August, according to South China Morning Post

FAST has an undisclosed but likely exorbitant operation cost. The telescope can view only a tiny sliver of the sky and uses 2,000 hydraulic pumps to direct the panels and capture the desired target. 

It has not been disclosed whether foreign scientists will need to pay to use the telescope.

Cooperation between China and the international space research community has been disrupted in recent years due to political tensions. US Congress passed a bill in 2011 which barred Chinese scientists from boarding the International Space Station, citing security concerns, as reported by Time

China announced an ambitious 2021 launch schedule and recently completed a groundbreaking mission to the moon and back, which was completed successfully on December 17 when the Chang-E 5 Lunar lander returned with four pounds of fresh rocks and dirt, as per NPR.

READ MORE: China Lunar Probe Lands on Moon's Far Side

Image via @我不是小馨/Weibo

China’s biggest rocket contractor, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), announced the plan on January 4 to launch 40 missions in 2021. 

The statement noted that the main focus of this year’s missions will be on constructing China’s own space station. China’s Mars probe, Tianwen-1, is also expected to reach Mars gravity in February, Global Times reports.

[Cover image via People's Daily/Weibo]

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