FAST

November 19, 2016


If you keep up with my posts you know that I try to bring my wonderful readers STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) news from all over the world.  The United States remains the global leader in technology, disruptive and otherwise but there are fascinating developments occurring in all parts of our small “blue dot”.

It has always been interesting to me the absolute need we have to find out where we come from.  One of the most successful web sites accessed today is Ancestry.com.  Americans are obsessed with genealogy and this desire has spawned a billion-dollar cottage industry. Alex Haley, author of the hugely popular 1976 book Roots, once said that black Americans needed their own version of Plymouth Rock, a genesis story that didn’t begin — or end — at slavery. His nine-hundred-page American family saga, which reached back to 18th century Gambia, certainly delivered on that. But it also shared with all Americans the emotional and intellectual rewards that can come with discovering the identity of our ancestors.

That need not only deals with individual ancestry but the need to find out just how we got here.  What mechanism or mechanisms created our species?  In finding out, we look back—back in time to see the origins of our planet and our universe.  That effort was furthered by FAST.  Let’s take a look.

The world’s largest radio telescope, according to China’s official Xinhua News, began searching for signals from stars and galaxies and, perhaps, extraterrestrial life this past Sunday in a project demonstrating China’s rising ambitions in space and its pursuit of international scientific prestige.  “The ultimate goal of FAST is to discover the laws of the development of the universe,” Qian Lei, an associate researcher with the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told state broadcaster CCTV. “In theory, if there is civilization in outer space, the radio signal it sends will be similar to the signal we can receive when a pulsar (spinning neutron star) is approaching us,” Qian said.  Installation of the 4,450-panel structure, nicknamed Tianyan, or the Eye of Heaven, started in 2011 and was completed in July.  The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, is named after its diameter, which, at five hundred meters (500), is 195 meters wider than the second-largest telescope of its kind, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.   Xinhua News reports the telescope cost $180 million and came to past with eight hundred thousand (8,000) people being displaced from their homes.  This displacement created the necessary three-mile radius of radio silence around the facility. The facility itself will be used for “observation of pulsars as well as exploration of interstellar molecules and interstellar communication signals.”   FAST is built in the Dawodang depression in Guizhou Province. The natural landscape provides the perfect size and shape for the construction of the telescope. The ground also provides enough support for the gigantic telescope.  The porous soil forms an underground drainage system that protects the telescope. With only one town in the twelve (12) miles radius, the Dawodang depression is extremely isolated from magnetic disruptions. The remoteness of the location also protects the surrounding landscape from any damage.

Like radio telescopes in other parts of the world, FAST will study interstellar molecules related to how galaxies evolve. For example, this summer a team using data from the Very Large Array, a collection of radio antennas in the New Mexico desert, picked up what scientists describe as “faint radio emission from atomic hydrogen … in a galaxy nearly five (5) billion light-years from Earth.” In the paper describing their findings, the team writes that the “next generation of radio telescopes,” like FAST, will build on their findings about how gases behave in galaxies.

Digital photographs of the completed structure and construction may be seen below.  As you can see, it is monstrous.

fast-2

The initial construction represented a huge effort with detailed planning extending over a five year period of time.

initial-construction

construction

construction2

construction-3

CONCLUSIONS:

This structure proves that for people all over the world—we are searching.  Personally, I think this is truly healthy.  My only wish is, one discovered, that news is shared with all humanity.   As always, I welcome your comments.

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