World’s largest radio telescope will search for dark matter, listen for aliens

In a stunning landscape of jagged limestone hills in southwestern China, engineers are putting the finishing touches on a grand astronomy facility: a half-kilometer-wide dish nestled in a natural depression that will gather radio signals from the cosmos. The world’s largest radio telescope will catalog pulsars; probe gravitational waves, dark matter, and fast radio bursts; and listen for transmissions from alien civilizations. Yet the architect of the tour de force is blasé about what his telescope might capture. “I’m really not very interested in science, I’m sorry to say,” says Nan Rendong, chief scientist and chief engineer of the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) here. Colleagues insist he is joking, but there is no question that what has consumed 2 decades of his life— and is now wowing other astronomers—is engineering. “As a civil engineering feat, FAST is obviously amazing,” says Fred Lo, former director of the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Charlottesville, Virginia.”