Newyork: For the world’s largest radio telescope of its kind, completed in China on Sunday, the price tag was astronomical: the equivalent of about $180 million (roughly Rs. 1,214 crores).
The radio telescope also took a toll on local communities. Nine thousand people – each compensated roughly $1,800 (roughly Rs. 1.2 crores) – had to be uprooted to make room for the construction. The telescope is almost a mile in circumference and covers an area equivalent to 30 soccer pitches, embedded in a depression that acts as a natural noise shield.
But, to hear Chinese experts tell it, the radio telescope will be worth every yuan.
“As the world’s largest single aperture telescope located at an extremely radio-quiet site, its scientific impact on astronomy will be extraordinary, and it will certainly revolutionize other areas of the natural sciences,” the scientist spearheading the project, Nan Rendong, told the Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
Known as the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, or FAST, the telescope claims the title of world’s largest from the Arecibo Observatory, a 300-meter device in Puerto Rico. FAST is so large that, were the dish filled to the brim with merlot, it would hold five bottles of wine per person on the planet, a scientist boasted to the Guardian in February. Construction on the Chinese telescope began in 2011, though the delicate arrangement of 4,450 reflector panels meant slow progress – just 20 installations per day. Workers placed the last of the triangle-shaped panels on Sunday.
Radio telescopes may look quite a bit different than backyard telescopes pointed at the moon, but their operating principle is more or less the same. Instead of magnifying visible light, FAST channels and amplifies radiation in the form of radio waves.