CHINA to open giant telescope to international scientists : 'World's largest telescope' signals Beijing's ambitions as a global centre for scientific research.

BEIJING : Nestled among the mountains in southwest China, the world's largest radio telescope signals Beijing's ambitions as a global centre for scientific research.

The Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope [FAST] - the only significant instrument of its kind after the collapse of another telescope in Puerto Rico this month - is about to open its doors for foreign astronomers to use, hoping to attract the world's top scientific talent.

The world's second-largest radio telescope, at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, was destroyed when its suspended 9-tonne receiver platform came loose and plunged 140 metres [450 feet] onto the radio dish below.

Wang Qiming, the chief inspector at FAST's operations and development centre, told AFP during a rare visit by the foreign press last week that he had visited Arecibo.

''We drew a lot of inspiration from its structure, which we gradually improved to build our structure.''

The Chinese installation in Pingtang, Guizhou province, is up to three times more sensitive than the US-owned one, and is surrounded by a five-kilometre [three mile] ''radio silence'' zone where mobile phones and computers are not allowed.

Work on the FAST began in 2011 and it started full operations in January this year, working mainly to capture the radio signal emitted by celestial bodies, in particular, pulsars - rapidly rotating dead stars.

The 500-metre giant satellite dish is easily the world's largest - covering the area of 30 football pitches - and cost 1.1 billion yuan [$175 million] to build, as well as displacing thousands of villagers to make room for it.

China has been rapidly boosting its scientific credentials to become less reliant on foreign technology.

The world's most populous country has so far only won one scientific Nobel Prixe - awarded in 2015 to chemist Tu Youyou. [AFP]


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