Interview: China's FAST telescope poised to have "very big" impact, says Chilean astrophysicist

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SANTIAGO, March 31 (Xinhua) -- China's Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, better known as FAST, is poised to have a "very big" impact on astronomical research, due to its unique features and accessibility to scientists around the world, according to Chilean astrophysicist Diego Mardones.

"Because it is the largest ... it is undoubtedly the best, with the ability to observe at low frequencies," Mardones, a professor at the University of Chile, said in a recent interview with Xinhua.

FAST is the world's largest filled-aperture radio telescope and will be available for global service starting from April 1, the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC), which operates the telescope, said in early January.

"Everyone has been waiting and the impact could be very big," said Mardones, a Harvard Ph.D. in astrophysics.

After the collapse of the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico in December, which had a reflector plate about 300 meters in diameter, FAST is now the leading radio telescope in the world.

Apart from its size, it has other advantages compared to the Arecibo, noted Mardones.

"It is a faster telescope than the Arecibo was, due to the electronics involved and the way it observes. It is a telescope that has a smaller beam. That means that the sky can be seen with better angular resolution, and that is key, it is essential in astronomy and allows a slightly larger range in declination," Mardones said.

"That means we have FAST for 10 or 20 years, and maybe 50, let's say, getting wonderful results" that could be "potentially very great," he said.

In terms of improving astronomical observation, FAST's low-frequency capacity is another big boon to the field, said Mardones.

"When you want to detect more complex molecules, you are aiming for longer lengths, lower frequencies. And FAST will provide that," he said.

Using China's radio telescope, Mardones said he would like to carry out a low-frequency search for molecular spectrum in regions of star formations where he has already done this type of search at high frequency.

China is collaborating with Chile in the field of astronomy in a "quite honest" way and has shown itself to be "open to collaborate," said Mardones.

The academic also encouraged the exchange of students, academics and experts between China and Chile.

North Chile's Atacama Desert, the driest in the world, is home to the ALMA observatory. Comprised of 66 antennas, it is the largest and highest astronomical observatory on the planet.

"I think it is important that more qualified people, like 'postdocs,' and of course also academics and professors like me, travel. Being able to go to China or have Chinese people come to visit to meet us and begin to establish ties, is essential," he said.

Meanwhile, the NAOC has said scientists from around the world can make reservations online starting April 1 to use FAST, which is located in a deep natural depression in southwest China's Guizhou province.

An assigned schedule for use of the world's most sensitive radio telescope, which was officially launched on Jan. 11, 2020, will be available beginning Aug. 1. Enditem

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