Over the next few years, a new generation of telescopes are going to come online. Collectively, they will reveal new things about the universe we could only imagine, and they will surely challenge conventional wisdom in the fields of physics, astronomy, and cosmology. It's an exciting era for science.
Among the first of the next generation of powerful telescopes is China's FAST radio telescope, which was completed last year. FAST is a gigantic radio dish built into a natural depression in China's Guizhou province, and is the largest single-dish radio telescope in the world. It has the potential to see further than any other radio telescope in the world, and it's already making use of that ability to .
Pulsars are the remains of long-dead stars, the cores of supergiants left over from the tremendous explosions that consumed them. These star corpses are small, extremely dense, and spin very quickly. A typical pulsar can make several rotations per second.
Pulsars also have very powerful magnetic fields. These rotating magnetic fields trigger the emission of radio waves out from the poles, which sweep across the universe with every rotation, like a giant cosmic lighthouse. Sometimes, those radio beams sweep by us, and we can detect them with our radio telescopes.
Because FAST is the largest radio telescope ever built, it can spot pulsars further away than anything else. It's already made use of this ability to find several new pulsars, including one that's 16,000 light-years away.
This discovery is important because scientists can study the radio waves emitted by pulsars to learn more about whatever those radio waves passed through. Each new pulsar means a new set of radio waves to study, which can help us learn the composition of various nebulas and the makeup of empty space between us and the pulsar.
But FAST is just getting started. The gigantic radio telescope is so powerful that it should be able to find pulsars located in other galaxies, which no telescope has ever been able to do before. If it can find extragalactic pulsars, scientists could use that data to learn about the particles floating in the space between galaxies, which has never been done before.
Who knows what we'll find there.