Australian technology at the heart of the world’s largest telescope

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CSIRO-developed technology will form the core of one of the world’s biggest ever science projects following an agreement with China’s leading astronomical research organisation.

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The CSIRO has teamed up with the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC) to assist in the development of the largest single dish telescope in the world – the Five hundred metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST).

With a diameter of 500 metres, FAST will not only dwarf the current largest single-dish telescope – the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico – but it will also be able to receive weaker and more distant radio signals, helping to explore the nature, origins and evolution of the universe.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshal said Australia’s national science organisation was tasked with designing and building the telescope’s 19-beam receiver, which is a key component of the system.

“Global collaboration is an integral part of CSIRO’s Strategy 2020, as it maps out our desire to deliver science, technology and innovation to new customers and markets, while also delivering benefit back to Australia,” Dr Marshall said.

“This is a really exciting project and builds on 40 years of CSIRO collaboration with Chinese industry and research organisations.”

He said that unlike most radio telescope receivers, which only allow for one piece of sky to be seen at a time, the CSIRO designed receivers feature many separate, simultaneous beams, making it practical for FAST to search a large portion of the sky for faint and hidden galaxies.

“The powerful receiver we’ve created for FAST is the result of our long history developing cutting-edge astronomy technology to receive and amplify radio waves from space,” Acting Director CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, Dr Douglas Bock said.

“Extending our technology and collaboration to China and working on what will become the world’s largest radio telescope really cements our position as a global R&D leader in this space.”

Professor Rendong Nan from NAOC said the state-of-the-art instrument would enable astronomers to greatly expand their knowledge of the universe.

“FAST will make it possible for us to look for a range of extremely interesting and exotic objects, like detecting thousands of new pulsars in our galaxy, and possibly the first radio pulsar in other galaxies,” he said.