Interview: Opening of China's FAST telescope to int'l scientists enhances collaboration, says Australian astrophysicist

By huaxia (Xinhua) 13:56, April 09, 2021

CANBERRA, April 9 (Xinhua) -- The opening of China's Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) to international scientists could enhance collaboration of scientists from different countries, said Australian astrophysicist Naomi McClure-Griffiths.

"The telescope is brand new. Many people want to use it, and there's a lot of competition to use the telescope," said McClure-Griffiths in an interview with Xinhua. "As we move into the future, I hope to be able to use it more."

FAST is in southwest China's Guizhou province. As world's largest filled-aperture and most sensitive radio telescope, it officially opened to the world starting March 31.

Professor McClure-Griffiths, an astrophysicist and radio astronomer, works at the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics in the Australian National University.

She told Xinhua that she had been to the FAST twice. "I was working in collaboration with a scientist who was the project scientist for FAST, professor Li Di ... and he took me to the telescope to show me how it works. And we've been discussing scientific projects that we could do there."

She hailed the telescope as an "amazing feat of engineering." "It's absolutely phenomenal," said the professor. "It's big beyond belief and an incredible structure."

McClure-Griffiths discovered a new spiral arm in the Milky Way galaxy in 2004, and was awarded the Pawsey Medal from the Australian Academy of Science in 2015.

"I'm interested in how galaxies form and how they evolve, and I think the FAST, with its sensitivity as well as its ability to see fine detail, can image very small areas and will allow us to look at our own galaxy, for example, and study how it is interacting with the medium around it."

She compared the FAST to a bucket, and said it was good for studying hydrogen in the universe, which is the dominant element that makes up galaxies and shows how they work. "The reason FAST is so good for studying hydrogen is because it's a very big bucket and allows you to see the really weak bits of hydrogen that are in between galaxies."

FAST could also be used to discover pulsars. To date, FAST has found more than 300 pulsars, and the number is expected to reach 1,000 in the next five years.

"Pulsars are very compact stars that rotate very quickly," said Professor McClure-Griffiths. "They produce just a very weak signal of radio emission. So the bigger your telescope is, the more likely you are to find them."

Applications submitted by domestic and overseas scientists to use the FAST will be evaluated by top international experts, which the professor said was good for international study and cooperation.

Already established in her career, she has had collaborations with Chinese scientists, and had opportunities to visit and understand the telescope. "But for the younger scientists who don't necessarily have the collaborations yet with Chinese astronomers, this (FAST's opening to international scientists) is offering them the opportunity to access the telescope and start to build those collaborations and expand their network."

McClure-Griffiths said she knew some teams in Australia that look forward to chances when they could access the FAST.

"It's going to be really exciting to see the results from FAST in the upcoming years," she said. 

(Web editor: Shi Xi, Bianji)


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