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World’s largest radio telescope put into use in Guizhou

When hundreds of engineers and builders began clambering up a jagged hill in southwest China to assemble a giant telescope in a deep, bowl-shaped basin, poor villagers sometimes crept over the sheer slopes to glimpse the country's latest technological wonder.

贵州平塘县——数百名工程师和建筑工人在中国西南地区凸凹不平的山丘间爬上爬下,在一个碗状的深洼地里组装一座巨型望远镜期间,贫穷的村民们有时会悄悄在爬上陡峭的山坡,目睹本国最新的技术奇迹。

"We've never seen anything like it, never imagined it," said one of the villagers, Huang Zhangrong, a sun-gnarled 66-year-old carpenter. "It's a big circle, a big iron wok."

"我们以前从没有见过这种东西,完全想象不出来。这是个大圆鼎,一口大铁锅。"66岁的村民黄樟荣(音)说。他是一名木匠,皮肤被太阳晒得粗糙不平。

The wok is the world's largest single-dish radio telescope, and it officially began operating on Sunday, after more than five years of construction. The "Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope," FAST for short, is intended to project China's scientific ambitions deep into the universe, bringing back dramatic discoveries and honors like Nobel Prizes.

这口铁锅是目前世界上最大的单口径射电望远镜,经过五年多的施工,于上周日正式竣工。修建这个名为"500米口径球面望远镜"(简称FAST)的目的是,把中国科学的雄心投向宇宙深处,为国家带来激动人心的发现和诸如诺贝尔奖这样的荣誉。

Maybe even messages from aliens.

也许甚至还能带回来自外星人的信息。

The telescope, which is in a majestic but impoverished part of Guizhou Province, embodies China's plans to rise as a scientific power. The dish is made of 4,450 intricately positioned triangular panels and has a collecting area of 2.1 million square feet, equal to almost 450 basketball courts. At 1,640 feet in diameter, it will be roughly twice as sensitive as the world's next-biggest single-dish radio telescope, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which is 1,000 feet across.

这架望远镜坐落在贵州省一个壮美但贫困的地区,是中国进入世界科学大国行列计划的化身。"大锅"由4450片精确拼装起来的三角形面板组成,总面积为19.6万平方米,大约相当于450个篮球场。这架望远镜口径为500米,其灵敏度大约是世界上第二大的单口径射电望远镜阿雷西沃望远镜(Arecibo Observatory)的两倍。阿雷西沃望远镜位于波多黎各,口径为302米。

Astronomers will use the Guizhou telescope to map the shape and formation of the universe, relying on its large size and a mobile detector suspended above the dish to explore space more quickly, deeply and thoroughly than smaller telescopes. To ensure the project remains undisturbed, more than 9,000 people are being moved by the government.

天文学家将用贵州的望远镜来测绘宇宙的形状和组成,因为其巨大的面积和悬挂在镜面上的可调控接收机,这架望远镜比更小的望远镜能更快、更深、更彻底地探索太空。为了确保项目不受干扰,政府对9000多人进行了移民安置。

But the telescope shows the government in Beijing is also willing to spend heavily to propel China high into the big leagues in research that offers few direct payoffs, apart from knowledge and prestige.

但这台望远镜显示,北京政府也愿意花费重金把中国推进全球科研佼佼者的行列,研究除了知识和声望外,很少给人带来直接回报的东西。

"Astronomy is an ultimate expression of 'pure' science that has little immediate practical benefits," Luis C. Ho, the director of the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University, said by email. "It is a luxury that only the most advanced economies enjoy."

"天文学是几乎没有直接实际用途的'纯'科学的一种最高表现形式,"北京大学科维理天文与天体物理研究所所长何子山(Luis C. Ho)在一封电邮中说。"这种奢侈品只有最先进的经济体才能享受。"

China's history of subjugation to the West in previous centuries reinforced the belief that scientific prowess is essential for any modern power. And studying the heavens was, after all, an area where China excelled in ancient times.

中国在上几个世纪受西方欺负的历史,坚定了中国人的一个信念:科技实力对任何现代化强国来说必不可少。毕竟,中国古人就擅长研究天文。

"Now we're racing to catch up and want to recreate the glories of our ancestors by reviving our astronomy," Zhang Chengmin, an astrophysicist at the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in an interview. "China isn't just an economic power; it is also becoming a scientific power."

"现在我们正在迎头赶上,我们要通过复兴天文学来重现祖先的荣耀,"中国科学院国家天文台的天体物理学家张承民在接受采访时说。"中国不仅是个经济大国,也正在成为一个科学大国。"

Astronomy, however, also depends on international cooperation. It also uses foreign equipment. The receiver, a crucial part, is Australian technology. Foreign scientists will be invited to work on research, and many of the telescope's big projects will draw on international collaboration.

但是,天文学研究也有赖于国际合作,它也使用了一些外国的设备。作为望远镜关键组成部分的接收机就是澳大利亚的技术。国外的科学家将被邀请来参加研究工作,这架望远镜将进行的许多大型工作都会以国际合作的方式开展。

The soluble rock that covers this part of Guizhou has dissolved and eroded over eons into jutting hills with natural cavities. The spectacular terrain has also trapped residents in hard, isolated lives, farming corn and honeysuckle in the narrow strips of land among the hills.

贵州的这个地区遍布着可溶性岩石,亿万年来,这些岩石的溶解和侵蚀形成了拥有天然洞穴的起伏山峦。这种壮观的地貌也把当地居民限制在与世隔绝的艰难生活中,他们在山峦之间的狭窄洼地里种植玉米和金银花。

But the terrain also offers a nearly ideal environment for a radio telescope. The population is sparse, and the hills are a natural barrier against radio noise and wind that could upset the delicate instruments needed to catch whispers from deep in space.

然而,这种地貌为射电望远镜提供了一个近乎理想的环境。这里人烟稀少,山峦形成的天然屏障可以阻挡无线电噪声和风,让精密仪器在捕捉深空微弱信号时少受干扰。

"We're definitely aiming for innovative results as quickly as possible, unearthing its potential for Nobel Prize-grade discoveries," Di Li, a leading scientist on the FAST project, told Xinhua, the state news agency, last year.

"我们一定要尽快取得创新性成果,尽快挖掘获得诺贝尔奖级发现的潜力,"国家天文台射电部首席科学家李菂去年对官方通讯社新华社说。

The telescope is part of an array of projects to raise China's standing as a scientific power through big, expensive feats of scientific exploration.

这架望远镜是提高中国"科学大国"地位努力的一部分,这种努力还包括一系列其他造价昂贵的大型科学探索项目。

The space program aims to send an astronaut to the moon by 2025 or later and to land an unmanned vehicle on Mars in 2020. Chinese scientists plan to build the world's biggest particle accelerator. And there may be more radio telescopes, including in Tibet.

中国的太空计划打算在2025年前后将一名宇航员送上月球,并将一个无人探测器在2020年送上火星。中国科学家还想建造世界上最大的粒子加速器。中国可能还会修建更多的射电望远镜,包括在西藏。

Using the new reach of the telescope in Guizhou, astronomers hope to better measure the distribution of neutral hydrogen atoms, like a telltale cosmic dust.

利用贵州望远镜的新能力,天文学家们希望能够更好地测量中性氢的分布,中性氢能穿越宇宙尘埃,为人们提供有关宇宙的信息。

"Previous research could only tell us that the universe is expanding," Zhang Tongjie, a professor of cosmology at Beijing Normal University who plans to use the telescope, said in an interview.

北京师范大学天体物理学家教授张同杰在接受采访时说,"以前的研究只能告诉我们宇宙正在膨胀。"他打算使用这架望远镜。

If the telescope can be used to survey electromagnetic radiation from neutral hydrogen, he said, Chinese scientists would be well positioned to gain a much more accurate grasp of how fast the universe is expanding. "That would be very significant," he said.

他说,如果这台望远镜能用来研究中性氢电磁辐射的话,中国科学家能在更准确地把握宇宙膨胀速度上处于有利的地位。"那将是非常重要的,"他说。

Astronomers also hope to use the telescope to locate thousands more pulsars, the highly magnetized neutron stars that rotate, creating a metronome-like pulse that is a boon to measurements. By better measuring pulsars, and more of them, the telescope could open up a new way to explore the long-elusive gravitational waves predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity.

天文学家还希望用这架望远镜来发现数千颗更多的脉冲星。脉冲星是旋转着的中子星,它们具有高度的磁化,产生着节拍器般的脉冲,这对测量非常有用。这架望远镜通过更好地测量脉冲星,以及探测到更多的脉冲星,可以为探索引力波开辟一条新的途径。爱因斯坦的广义相对论预言了引力波的存在,但引力波一直非常难探测。

Only early this year, an international team of scientists announcedthat they had captured evidence of gravitational waves. But the pulsar research would offer another way to make progress, perhaps confirming and refining that discovery.

就在今年年初,一个国际科学家小组宣布捕捉到了引力波的证据。脉冲星的研究可能提供另一种推动这方面进展的方法,也许能证实和进一步完善该小组的发现。

"This telescope offers the first time that China will have an unsurpassed opportunity to be at the international forefront of deep space exploration," said Mr. Zhang, the astrophysicist.

"这架望远镜将首次为中国带来一个无与伦比的机会,让中国有可能站在探测深度宇宙的国际前沿上,"天体物理学家张同杰说。

But astronomers said it could take years before the telescope in Guizhou starts making breakthroughs. It could take a year or two for the scientists and technicians to tweak and debug the complex equipment so that the telescope can work at full strength, they said.

但是,天文学家说,贵州的望远镜开始做出突破之前,可能还需要好几年的时间。他们说,科学家和技术人员可能需要一两年的时间来调试这台复杂的设备,排除各种问题,让望远镜达到最佳工作条件。

Source: New York Times

2016-09-26

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