Astronomers use the World's Biggest Radio Telescope to map new Features of the Milky Way

Artist impression of a fast radio burst. Credit: Danielle Futselaar

Despite everything astronomers have learned about the nature and structure of galaxies, there are still mysteries about the Milky Way. The reason for this is simple: since we are embedded in the Milky Way’s disk, we have difficulty mapping it and observing it as a whole. It’s also very challenging to observe the center of the galaxy, what lies beyond it, and features in the disk itself because of all the gas and dust between stars- the Interstellar Medium (ISM). However, by observing the Milky Way in the non-visible spectrum (radio, x-ray, gamma-ray, etc.), astronomers can see more of what’s out there.

There’s also the spectral line that corresponds to the emission frequency (1420 MHz) of cold neutral hydrogen gas (HI), which makes up the majority of the ISM. Using the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) – the most powerful radio telescope in the world near Guizhou, China – a team of scientists located more than 500 new faint pulsars. During the survey, the team simultaneously recorded the spectral line data with high spectral and spatial resolution, making it an extremely valuable resource for studying the structure of the Milky Way Galaxy and the life cycle of its stars.

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China’s FAST Telescope Could Detect Self-Replicating Alien Probes

One of the most challenging questions to answer when confronting the Fermi Paradox is why exponentially scaling technologies haven’t taken over the universe by now.  Commonly known as von Neumann probes, the idea of a self-replicating swarm of extraterrestrial robots has been a staple of science fiction for decades.  But so far, there has never been any evidence of their existence outside the realm of fiction.  That might be because we haven’t spent a lot of time looking for them – and that could potentially change with the new Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST).  According to some recent calculations, the massive new observational platform might be able to detect swarms of von Neumann probes relatively far away from the sun.

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Astronomers Will Be Able to Use the World’s Biggest Radio Telescope to Search for Signals from Extraterrestrial Civilizations

Image of the FAST telescope in China
Image of the FAST Telescope in China

Back in April, we reported on how a collaboration between the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Breakthrough Listen Initiative, and the SETI Institute planned to use the new Five-hundred-meter Aperture radio Telescope (FAST) to search for signs of extraterrestrial life.  We now caught up with another of the project scientists to flesh out some more details of their observational plans and what observations they hope to make in the future.

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How the World’s Biggest Radio Telescope Could be Used to Search for Aliens

The Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) has just finished construction in the southwestern province of Guizhou. Credit: FAST

In 2016, China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope – the largest single-aperture radio telescope in the world – gathered its first light. Since then, the telescope has undergone extensive testing and commissioning and officially went online in Jan of 2020. In all that time, it has also been responsible for multiple discoveries, including close to one hundred new pulsars.

According to a recent study by an international team of scientists and led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) suggests that FAST might have another use as well: the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI)! Building on their collaboration with the non-profit science organization Breakthrough Initiatives, the authors of the study highlight the ways in which FAST could allow for some novel SETI observations.

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China’s 500-Meter FAST Radio Telescope is Now Operational

The Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) has just finished construction in the southwestern province of Guizhou. Credit: FAST

The world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope is officially open for business according to Xinhua, China’s official state-run media. The FAST Radio Telescope saw fist light in 2016 but has been undergoing testing and commissioning since then. FAST stands for Five-hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope.

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China’s FAST Telescope, the World’s Largest Single Radio Dish Telescope, is Now Fully Operational

The Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) has just finished construction in the southwestern province of Guizhou. Credit: FAST

After years of construction, China’s new radio telescope is in action. The telescope, called FAST (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope) has double the collecting power of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which has a 305 meter dish. Until now, Arecibo was the world’s largest radio dish of its type.

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