For the past two years, the most powerful radio telescope in the world has been located in China. Ever since the FAST telescope was completed in the province of Guizhou in 2016, China has held the world record for the largest and most powerful single-dish radio telescope. However, the FAST telescope has one significant design limitation: it can only point straight up.
The FAST telescope is essentially a giant bowl built into a natural depression in a mountainside, which is what allows it to be so big. But that bowl can’t move or point in any direction but up, which limits the areas of the sky that the telescope can observe. Now, according to a , China is planning to build a brand new telescope to overcome that obstacle.
The new telescope will be what’s known as a ‘steerable’ radio telescope, similar to the (pictured above). A steerable radio telescope has its dish mounted on a series of actuators that allow it to point anywhere in the sky. While these types of telescopes are understandably less powerful, their versatility more than makes up for it.
The new telescope being constructed in China, the Xinjiang Qitai 110-meter Radio Telescope (QTT), will be slightly larger than the Green Bank Telescope, the current largest steerable radio telescope. The added size will allow the QTT to look for faint pulsars, map distant galaxies, and possibly find evidence of extraterrestrial life.
There’s no information yet on where the telescope will be built, or when it will be completed. Telescopes of this size often take a long time to construct and are frequently plagued with cost overruns and delays. Still, there’s a good chance the QTT will be completed before 2030, and we can have an even better eye on the cosmos.