China's huge FAST telescope will open to scientists globally in April

Foreign astronomers will get 10 percent of observation time.

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The “Sky Eye” parabolic dish is the world’s largest Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST).
Xinhua/Liu Xu via Getty Images

China will open its 500-meter (1,600 foot) telescope to the global scientific community starting on April 1st, China’s Global Times reported. The “Sky Eye” parabolic dish is the world’s largest Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) used for spotting pulsars and other energetic astronomical targets. It will also be used occasionally to search for alien life.

Foreign scientists will be able to submit applications to China’s National Astronomical Observatories online, according to China’s Xinhua news agency. After review, observation times will be doled out starting on August 1st. Around 10 percent of observation times will be allotted to global astronomers this year, according to FAST’s chief engineer Jiang Peng.

The telescope was officially put into service on January 11th, 2020. However, it started observations well before then and has so far imaged 240 pulsars. One of the most significant was found in the Messier 92 star cluster. It’s a so-called millisecond pulsar that spins much faster than normal pulsars at an incredible 316.5 rotations per second (18.990 RPM), while sucking in and ejecting matter from its companion star.

China’s Sky Eye is the largest FAST telescope in the world and the only one that can do specific types of observations following the collapse of the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope in Puerto Rico. The US National Science Foundation said it would tear down the observatory, but there’s some glimmer of hope it may be rebuilt after Puerto Rico pledged $8 million in aid.

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