23:36 GMT14 July 2020
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    After one year of trial operations, China’s 500-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), a 30-football-field-large radio telescope that is currently the world’s largest, recently discovered two pulsars 16,000 and 4,100 light years from Earth, respectively.

    Pulsars are magnetized and rotating collapsed stars that emit electromagnetic beams. Researchers from the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC) confirmed Tuesday that the new pulsars J1859-01 and J1931-01 were discovered on August 22 and 25 while the telescope was scanning the southern galactic plane. Australia's Parkes radio telescope confirmed the discovery in September, state news agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday. 

    According to Peng Bo, deputy director of the FAST project, the trial operation for a radio telescope as large as FAST — located in China's southwest Guizhou province — is usually three to five years.

    "It is truly encouraging to have achieved such results within just one year," Peng said, Xinhua reported.

    Emily Petroff from the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy told Gizmodo that pulsars can reveal valuable information about the Milky Way.

    "Pulsars are useful for studying the ionized material in our galaxy. Their radio pulses travel through interstellar medium and allow us to measure its properties. So having a pulsar in another galaxy would be a super powerful tool from probing the interstellar (and intergalactic) medium in between us and another galaxy. That's never been done before," Petroff said. 

    In addition to listening for pulsars and other interstellar radio signals, the telescope, which took five years to build and cost $180 million, can also be used to detect potential signs of extraterrestrial life by listening for radio waves other intelligent life forms might use to communicate. The first pulsar, discovered in 1968, was initially thought to be an alien radio source before scientists figured out it was a rotating collapsed star instead of a transmission from ET.

    China is becoming a global leader in science and technology. According to the World Bank, the research and development expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product in 2015 was 2.79 in the US, followed closely by China at 2.07.

    The second-largest radio telescope on earth is the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which is most famous for its 1974 message sent to the globular cluster Messier 13, about 25,000 light years away. The message was an attempt at communicating with possible extraterrestrial life and includes numbers, chemical formulas, stick figures and a simple image of the telescope.

    The observatory suffered some damage when Hurricane Maria struck the island with devastating force in September, but has been restored to at least partial operation. Complete damage assessments are still underway. 


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