The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) nicknamed Tianyan (“Heavenly Eye” or “The Eye of Heaven”) is a radio telescope located in the Dawodang depression, a natural basin in Pingtang County, Guizhou Province, southwest China. It consists of a fixed 500 m (1,640 ft) diameter dish constructed in a natural depression in the landscape. It is the world’s largest filled-aperture radio telescope, and it will scan the ‘heavens’ for signs of intelligent alien life, among other tasks.
It was officially switched on in September 2016, and now some discoveries have been revealed!
According to China Daily:
“After one year of trial operation, China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, has identified multiple pulsars, the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC).
It was the first time a radio telescope independently developed by Chinese scientists has found pulsars.”
A pulsar is a neutron star that emits beams of radiation that sweep through Earth’s line of sight. Like a black hole, it is an endpoint to stellar evolution. The “pulses” of high-energy radiation we see from a pulsar are due to a misalignment of the neutron star’s rotation axis and its magnetic axis.
“It is truly encouraging to have achieved such results within just one year,” Peng Bo, deputy director of FAST, told China Daily.
Two of the pulsars, named J1859-01 and J1931-01, are 16,000 light years and 4,100 light years from Earth with rotation periods of 1.83 seconds and 0.59 seconds, respectively.
As we said, the telescope is being used to scan the ‘heavens’ for signs of intelligent alien life, among other tasks, and it has already found some intriguing signals. Now it is the first Chinese radio telescope to detect pulsars, and it could become the first telescope ever to find a pulsar outside our galaxy!
We know of about 2,700 pulsars inside our Milky Way so far, with the first discovered back in 1967 by Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish. FAST is expected to double that number, and may also aid in the study of gravitational waves.
FAST has not been without controversy. The FAST site was once home to a village of 65 people, who were relocated in 2009, according to Xinhua. The Chinese government resettled additional 9000 people that were living within 3 miles (5 km) of the telescope. In August this year, meanwhile, various reports said they were struggling to find experts to run the facility.
Although we still have no “official” news of extraterrestrial life, these signals from distant rapidly spinning stars is awesome, right?!