Asia's largest radio telescope for space observation was set up at the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory Sunday, where astronomers said they hope it will be fully operational next year and be able to participate in the country's upcoming missions to the moon.
The 2,600-ton telescope, with a celestial observation distance of more than 100 light-years, is 70 meters tall. Its 3,317-square-meter antenna, which can rotate 360 degrees, has a diameter of 65 meters.
Unlike optical telescopes that provide visual images of the object it is pointed at, the radio telescope tracks and collects radio signals and is used to collect data from satellites and space probes.
"It is the size of the antenna that's important. The greater the diameter the weaker the radio wave it can detect," Fan Qingyuan, general engineer of the radio telescope project, told the Global Times.
Construction of the telescope, which is located at the foot of Sheshan Mountain in Songjiang district, Shanghai, began at the end of 2010, reported the Xinhua News Agency. Only the US, Germany and Italy have larger radio telescopes.
"It is now undergoing trials and will be put into use at the beginning of next year and will be used to detect the orbit of the satellite Chang'e III," Fan added.
The telescope will be used for Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), a type of astronomical instrument used in radio astronomy, as it can collect accurate data and increase its angular resolution during astronomical observation, reported Xinhua.
China's VLBI system is made up of four telescopes each in the cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Kunming and Urumqi, as well as a data center in Shanghai.
"The functions will continue to improve," said Fan, adding that the telescope will soon start to detect celestial bodies or spacecraft that send out low frequency radio waves, and by 2015 it can detect high frequency waves.
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