China’s 500 metre aperture spherical radio telescope sits in the Dawodang natural basin in Pingtang County, Guizhou Province, southwest China; it is also known as FAST (Five-hundred Aperture Spherical Telescope—or Tianyan (“Heavenly Eye” or “The Eye of Heaven”). More specifically, the telescope is comprised of a 500 metre (1,640 foot) diameter dish on top of a natural depression in the Earth. This makes it the world’s largest filled-aperture radio telescope, and its primary task is to detect intelligent alien life in the Universe.
FAST has been operating since September 2016, and as per 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.”
To refresh everyone’s memories, a pulsar is a neutron star emitting beams of radiation within our planet’s line of sight. Similar to black holes, pulsars are endpoints of stellar evolution; the “pulses” of high-energy radiation result from a misalignment of the star’s rotation axis and magnetic axis. According to Peng Bo, the deputy director of Tianyan, “It is truly encouraging to have achieved such results within just one year. ” Indeed, the telescope has already detected two pulsars called J1859-01 and J1931-01 which are 16,000 and 4,100 light years from Earth, and it has revealed rotation periods of 1.83 seconds and 0.59 seconds.
More impressive yet, FAST could very well be the first telescope to detect a pulsar outside our own galaxy. Humanity has managed to discover approximately 2,700 pulsars inside the Milky Way, dating back to the 1967 discovery of Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish. Incredibly, it is thought that Tianyan will double that amount in relatively no time at all. On top of all this, FAST is also capable of helping with research regarding gravitational waves.
Unfortunately, 65 people had to be relocated from a village in 2009 in order to make room for Tianyan. As per Xinhua, the Chinese government relocated another 9,000 people within 5 km (3 miles) of FAST; as is usually the case, many human beings have been forced to make sacrifices in order to advance humanity’s knowledge overall. However, some reports in August argued that China was struggling to find experts to operate the telescope—so one can only hope that all the sacrifices will end up being worthwhile and beneficial to humanity very soon.
Either way, the truth is out there—and proof of whatever the truth actually is could be just beyond the horizon.