Sky and Telescope - February 2017 - 27

Completed last September, China's FAST
has eclipsed Arecibo as the largest singledish radio telescope in the world.

W ALIEN PRESENCE
Completed last September
after 5½ years of construction, the immense FAST
radio telescope - 500 m
(1,640 feet) across - is
nestled amid the verdant,
rugged hills and depressions of Guizhou Province
in southern China.
X "FATHER OF FAST"
Part engineer and part astronomer, Rendong Nan led
the project's development
from its inception.
s k y a n d t e l e s c o p e .c o m

FAST PROJECT

CHINESE ACA DEM Y OF SCIENCES

In 1986 Chinese archaeologists unearthed remnants of Sanxingdui, a mysterious and ancient city of the Shu kingdom located
1,700 kilometers southwest of Beijing. Among the Bronze Age relics
was a bronze mask with protruding, cylinder-shaped eyes and ears
spread like wings. It's believed to be a likeness of Cancong, the legendary first king of Shu, who possessed uncanny sight and hearing.
Three decades later, in September 2016, the descendants of this
ancient Chinese culture achieved those superpowered senses -
thanks to an amazing, gigantic machine nestled in a basin about
800 km southeast of the Sanxingdui site. There, amid a dramatic,
rugged landscape, engineers and scientists have built the Fivehundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, FAST for short,
which now ranks as the world's largest single-dish radio telescope.
It took 5½ years, beginning in March 2011, to construct this
behemoth, but its origins date back to 1993. That's when astronomers attending the General Assembly of the International Union
of Radio Science proposed a next-generation radio telescope with
unprecedented collecting area. Originally called the Large Telescope, the concept morphed into the Square Kilometer Array (SKA).
Over time, the SKA concept transitioned away from a few,
very large dishes to thousands of smaller antennas to be built in
Australia and South Africa instead. But by then astronomers led by
Rendong Nan had already extensively surveyed the Chinese countryside in search of an ideal site for a large, spherical dish - much
like the one near Arecibo, Puerto Rico, but much bigger.
Nan and his team had sifted through some 400 candidate sites,
most of them in deep depressions amid the limestone hills of
remote Guizhou and Yunnan provinces in southern China. There,
the terrain (called karst topography by geologists) includes many
large, bowl-shaped sinkholes - a natural foundation for building

* FEBRUARY 2017

27


http://www.skyandtelescope.com

Sky and Telescope - February 2017

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Sky and Telescope - February 2017

Contents
Sky and Telescope - February 2017 - Cover1
Sky and Telescope - February 2017 - Cover2
Sky and Telescope - February 2017 - 1
Sky and Telescope - February 2017 - Contents
Sky and Telescope - February 2017 - 3
Sky and Telescope - February 2017 - 4
Sky and Telescope - February 2017 - 5
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Sky and Telescope - February 2017 - Cover3
Sky and Telescope - February 2017 - Cover4
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