Three years into operation, the world’s largest radio telescope, FAST, has identified 86 pulsars.
China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, or FAST, is still in its commissioning phase. But it has already partially achieved its scientific goal of conducting astronomical observations on the ground as a practical telescope.
FAST has now achieved tracking, in-motion scanning and other astronomical observation modes, with several key results exceeding expectations.
Chinese scientists discovered multiple pulsars using the FAST telescope for the first time on Oct 10, 2017, only after one year’s operational trial.
Located in a naturally deep and round karst depression in Southwest China’s Guizhou province, FAST has a receiving dish area equivalent to about 30 football fields.
FAST’s key tasks include observation of pulsars as well as exploration of interstellar molecules and interstellar communication signals.
According to Zhang Pei, scientist with the National Astronomical Observatories of China, pulsars with high density and energy are irreplaceable “celestial laboratories” and could be used to replace navigational satellites to locate spacecraft.
British astronomers Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish discovered the first pulsar on Nov 28, 1967. Scientists have since identified more than 2,000 pulsars.
Pulsar observation is very important as it can be used to confirm the existence of gravitational radiation and black holes, and help solve many other major questions in physics.
“FAST has huge scientific potential and it may detect unprecedented signals during searches for pulsars, which will help us in further studies in astrophysics and basic physics,” Zhang said.
“FAST detected one of the faintest millisecond pulsars ever recorded in February 2018, which was unable to be seen by many other country’s telescopes. This shows us its advantage in sensitivity,” said Li Di, chief scientist of the FAST project.