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China's Enormous New Alien Hunting Radio Telescope Has Made Its First Discoveries


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

 STR/AFP/Getty Images

Hey, remember that huge telescope in China, the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST)? Well, it was switched on in September 2016, and now some discoveries have been revealed – pulsars!

According to China Daily, the telescope has spotted dozens of pulsar candidates, several of which have since been confirmed by the Parkes radio telescope in Australia.


Pulsars are neutron stars that spin incredibly rapidly, completing a rotation in a second or less, and that give off notable flashes of radiation.

"It is truly encouraging to have achieved such results within just one year," Peng Bo, deputy director of FAST, told China Daily.

Of the pulsars discovered, one called J1859-01 is 16,000 light-years away and rotates once every 1.83 seconds. Another, J1931-01, is 4,100 light-years away and rotates once every 0.59 seconds.

FAST is the largest single-dish radio telescope in the world, spanning 500 meters (1,640 feet) and eclipsing the Arecibo radio observatory in Puerto Rico. It is positioned in a vast karst depression in southwest China’s Guizhou Province.


The telescope is being used to study the origin and evolution of the universe, and it has already found some intriguing signals. Now it is the first Chinese radio telescope to detect pulsars, and it could become the first telescope ever to find a pulsar outside our galaxy as early as next year, which would be a huge finding.

A pulsar is a rapidly rotating neutron star. NASA

We know of about 2,700 pulsars inside our Milky Way so far, with the first discovered back in 1967. FAST is expected to double that number, and may also aid in the study of gravitational waves.

FAST has not been without controversy, though. When it was constructed, it was reported that thousands of people had to be re-located to make way for it. In August this year, meanwhile, various reports said they were struggling to find experts to run the facility.

These pulsar discoveries should hopefully get us back on track with actual science, though. The telescope is also being used to hunt for signals from extraterrestrials, but as you might imagine that’s pretty unlikely. Still, signals from distant rapidly spinning stars is just as cool, right?


Next up for the telescope, researchers hope to begin hunting for interstellar molecules and perform a large-scale survey of the neutral hydrogen in the universe.


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