The famed Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has held the title of World's Largest Radio Telescope since it opened in 1964. Situated in a natural depression that facilitated construction of its 305-meter (1,000 ft) wide parabolic dish, Arecibo will finally be surpassed by a similarly designed radio telescope now taking shape (ground-breaking ceremony below) in Guizhou province, China.
The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) is expected to come online in 2014, an even 50 years after Arecibo (right) first opened its ears to the universe. FAST's dish, at 500 meters (1,640 feet) in diameter, will be more than 50 percent larger than Arecibo and will offer radio astronomers a deeper, wider window on the most distant objects in the cosmos.
Besides its size, FAST has another advantage over Arecibo: flexibility. While Arecibo's dish is immovable, the 4,600 panels that make up FAST's dish can be adjusted to vary the dish's shape from spherical through parabolic, thus allowing the telescope to focus on a much greater area of the sky.
“The FAST science impact on astronomy will be extraordinary,” stated Nan Rendong (left) of the National Astronomical Observatories at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Nan, who is FAST's chief scientist, also mentioned that “although the telescope is located in China, once it is completed in 2014 it will be open to astronomers from around the world.” (via PhysicsWorld, Pardesh Baata, and MWS)