Erforscht werden kann etwa was in unendlicher Entfernung ist oder ob es ausserirdisches Leben gibt. Soeben ist in China die Schüssel des international grössten Radioteleskops fertiggestellt worden. Es gehört zum Observatorium FAST und soll für Forschern aus aller Welt verfügbar werden.
The world's largest radio telescope was put into use on Sunday in a mountainous region of southwest China's Guizhou Province. Shortly after noon, in a karst valley in Pingtang County, hundreds of astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts witnessed the official launch of the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope's (FAST) mission to explore space and hunt for extraterrestrial life.
Work on the nearly 1.2-billion-yuan (180 million U.S. dollars) project started in 2011, 17 years after it was proposed by Chinese astronomers. The installation of the telescope's main structure -- a 4,450-panel reflector as large as 30 football pitches -- was finished in early July. "(The telescope) will certainly generate enthusiasm, bring people into science, and make China important in the world of science," Joseph Taylor, a Nobel Prize-winning astronomer at Princeton University, told Xinhua.
The astronomer was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1993 for discovering indirect proof of gravitational waves with the assistance of Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory, home to a radio telescope that is 350 meters in diameter. Taylor expects FAST to be a "productive" project, even if he is unsure whether any of its discoveries will lead to a Nobel Prize.
In fact, FAST has already had a good start. In a recent trial observation, it received a set of high-quality electromagnetic waves sent from a pulsar about 1,351 light-years away, said Qian Lei, an associate researcher with the National Astronomical Observation (NAO) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which built the project. FAST's tasks include observation of pulsars as well as exploration of interstellar molecules and interstellar communication signals.
To ensure the telescope's performance, more than 8,000 locals are being resettled from their homes to make way for the project, which requires radio silence within a 5-kilometer radius. Visitors to the zone must turn off their mobile phones. The telescope's leading engineer Wang Qiming said the telescope, designed and built by Chinese scientists, will remain the global leader for the next 10 to 20 years. Yan Jun, head of the NAO, said China will roll out more "world-class" telescope projects in five to 10 years.
Radio telescopes have made major astronomical discoveries, such as pulsars, quasars and cosmic microwave background radiation. Among the 10 Nobel Prizes in physics awarded for discoveries related to cosmology and space, six were attributed to radio telescopes.
"As the world's largest single aperture telescope located at an extremely radio-quiet site, its scientific impact on astronomy will be extraordinary, and it will certainly revolutionize other areas of the natural sciences," said Nan Rendong, chief scientist with the FAST Project.
Work on the FAST project began in 2011. FAST will enable astronomers to get a jump-start on many scientific goals, including surveying neutral hydrogen in distant galaxies and detecting faint pulsars. Scientists also expect breakthroughs on pulsars, the highly magnetized, rotating neutron stars that emit a beam of electromagnetic radiation. So far more than 2,000 pulsars have been detected. As China joins international efforts in gravitational wave detection, FAST will help improve the chances of detecting low frequency gravitational waves, said Wu Xiangping, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who predicted great breakthroughs in this area in the years ahead.
In two or three years, scientists could find amino acids, the foundation block of life. There is a great chance that people will someday find life on other planets or galaxies, said Li Di, an NAO researcher. "FAST's potential to discover an alien civilization will be 5 to 10 times that of current equipment, as it can see farther and darker planets," said Peng Bo.
Quelle: Xinhua News