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The largest and most famous radio telescope in the world - the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico - is about to be upstaged. In a remote part of Guizhou province in southern China, construction has begun on a true behemoth of engineering, the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), an instrument that promises to transform radio astronomy.

"FAST is an awesome project," says Subramaniam Ananthakrishnan of the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics in Pune, India. When completed, its 500-metre diameter single dish will make it the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world. What's more, although FAST's dish will be fixed in its crater-like setting, a series of large motors will be able to change the shape of its reflective surface, allowing it to scan large swathes of the sky. FAST will be able to peer three times further into the universe than Arecibo. Astronomers expect it to uncover thousands of new galaxies and deep-sky objects up to 7 billion light years away.

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Category: Science