The world’s largest radio telescope began operation in late September in Beijing, China. The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, named FAST, dwarfs the previous world's largest single-dish radio telescope: The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
According to the World Record Academy website, FAST is the size of 30 football stadiums. 1.2 billion yuan ($180 million) was spent to make the telescope. The NPR website reports that “8,000 people were displaced from their homes to create the necessary 3-mile radius of radio silence around the facility.” FAST’s large dish is made up of 4,450 panels which will be used search for signs of intelligent life, and to observe distant pulsars.
According to the world Academy Records website, the head of China's National Astronomical Observation (NAO), Yan Jun, stated, “The telescope represents a leap forward for China's astronomical capabilities and will be one of several "world-class" telescope projects launched in the next decade.”
The Beijing media reported that FAST began serving its purpose before it even launched when it detected electromagnetic waves emitted by a pulsar more than 1,300 light-years away during a test run. According to the Xinhuanet website, “The telescope is expected to discover twice the number of pulsars as are currently known and it is highly likely to make breakthroughs in the study of gravitational waves and general relativity theory.”
For the next three years, the telescope will go through an adjustment period. During that time, it will be used by Chinese scientists for early stage research. When the three years are up, the telescope will be open for use by scientists worldwide.
Though the FAST telescope has not yet been recognized as the world’s largest radio telescope by Guinness World Records, the fact that it legitimately is the largest radio telescope means it is only a matter of time before it is recognized as such.