Construction is well underway on what will become the world’s largest radio telescope. Once complete, the half-kilometer-wide dish will explore the origins of the Universe and scour the skies for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

Located in southwest China’s Guizhou Province, the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope—aka “FAST”—is being constructed on a naturally formed bowl-like valley. It’s far from any town or city, so it’ll be able to achieve decent levels of “radio silence.”

The telescope’s reflector will measure 500-meters (1,640 feet) in diameter and be equipped with 4,450 panels. Each panel is shaped like a triangle, with each side measuring 11 meters (36 feet) long. Once complete, probably next year, it’ll be the world’s largest radio telescope, exceeding even Puerto Rica’s Arecibo Observatory, which is 300-meters (984 feet) in diameter. It should be able to peer into space three times further than Aricebo.

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Artist’s depiction of the what the completed telescope will look like.

“A radio telescope is like a sensitive ear, listening to tell meaningful radio messages from white noise in the universe,” noted Nan Rendong in China.org.cn. He’s the chief scientist of the FAST project with the National Astronomical Observatory at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Rendong likened it to identifying the sound of cicadas in a thunderstorm. The big dish should be able to pick up exceedingly weak signals, allowing astronomers and SETI scientists to delve further and farther back in the Universe’s history.

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“Having a more sensitive telescope, we can receive weaker and more distant radio messages,” noted Wu Xiangping, director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society. “It will help us to search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy and explore the origins of the universe.”

[ China.org.cn ]


Contact the author at george@io9.com and @dvorsky. Top Photo: A shot of the construction site taken last year. All images by Xinhua.