Goodbye Arecibo, Your Spirit Is Now In China’s FAST Telescope
On the island of Puerto Rico, nestled in the hills surrounding the city of Arecibo, stands the most famous radio telescope in the world, which over the years has become a Pop icon of scientific research.
Without forgetting the strong emotional drive that the great antenna has always represented in the world for SETI research.
But the news that more than any other seems to us able to give the measure of this extraordinary acceleration is that after just five years of work China has completed the construction of FAST – that is what with its 519 meters in diameter must be considered today the largest single antenna radio telescope in the world – thus appropriating a record that for more than half a century was held by the radio telescope of Arecibo with its parabola of 305 meters!
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The idea to build FAST (we will see later the meaning of this name) was born from a previous adhesion of China to the troubled Square Kilometer Array (SKA) project, when it was still assumed that the radio telescope wanted by the international scientific community could be built in the Asian country. In the end, it was decided that SKA would be built in two separate sites, in South Africa and Australia, and that it would use not a single mirror but a large expanse of smaller radio antennas. So, in 2006, China decided to set up on its own and take advantage of the experience gained to build its own radio observatory, extraordinarily large not only for reasons of political prestige, but also because of the need to impose a new dimensional standard to the scientific research of radio waves.
But let’s go in order, and enjoy step by step the stages of this extraordinary realization, starting from the description of the place where it was erected, i.e. Pingtang County, in the southern province of Guizhou.
This part of the territory is formed by a continuous expanse of low mountains separated by cavities of karstic origin, mostly of almost circular shape.
Just inside one of these, the “Dawodang depression”, 800 meters wide and chosen among many others scattered throughout China, it was decided in 2007 to house the antenna of a radio telescope similar to that of Arecibo, whose parabola, as we said at the beginning, was also built in a natural hollow. The area is definitely sparsely populated. The nearest cities are Anshun, more than 130 km northwest, and the great Guiyang, 150 km north, and therefore few are the artificial radio signals that could interfere with the observations. The obligation to respect the radio silence, also turning off cell phones, will have to be observed about ten kilometers before the arrival at the site, so that the Chinese government had to move to another location (not without controversy) the about 9 thousand people who lived less than 5 km from the installation.
The staff of resident scientists and technicians, about seventy people in all, will move for emergencies with two helicopters always available on the square of the control center, while the visitors, who are expected to be very numerous, will almost all arrive by bus, since the area is forbidden to private traffic.
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