China is planning to build the largest optical telescope in Asia, and the ambitious plans belong to Peking University in Beijing. This could be a competitor to NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.
The new telescope will be six meters in diameter by 2024, while its mirror will be expanded to eight meters by 2030. The project, called the Expanding Aperture Segmented Telescope (EAST), “will greatly enhance China’s observing capabilities in astronomy optics”, according to a statement sent by Interesting Engineering.
If all goes according to plan, the new facility would become the first world-class optical telescope in the Eastern Hemisphere, capable of competing with facilities in the Western Hemisphere at sites such as Mauna Kea in Hawaii, the Atacama in Chile and the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa.
EAST, a project of up to 84 million dollars
EAST will be built on Saishiteng Mountain, near Lenghu City, Qinghai Province, on the Tibetan Plateau, at an altitude of about 4,200 meters. It will consist of 18 hexagonal mirror segments, similar to the mirror on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. The mirror would be about six meters in diameter.
A second phase of the telescope project would see the addition of a ring of 18 hexagonal segments around the mirror, expanding it to a larger diameter of 7.9 meters by 2030.
The project is estimated to cost between $69 million and $84 million.
China’s other grand telescope-building plans
China has already built the world’s largest single-aperture radio telescope, called FAST, and has grand plans to launch a large space observatory, known as Xuntian (which means “skyward survey”) as early as the end of the year 2023.
Xuntian will conduct space-borne surveys of the sky and is expected to begin science operations around 2024. Unlike NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, Xuntian will be close enough to Earth for maintenance.
Xuntian will have a two-meter opening, along with advanced detectors. It will also be the size of a bus and weigh over ten tons.
Lobster’s Eye Space Telescope
Recently, international media revealed that the world’s first “lobster eye” space telescope, which will allow researchers to accurately record X-ray images of the Universe, has been successfully tested in China.
Called the Lobster Eye Imager for Astronomy (LEIA), the 53-kilogram telescope has already captured high-quality photos of X-ray sources in the Cosmos.
“We are very excited about the results of the LEIA telescope. They show that our technology works, and the precise observations exceeded our expectations,” said astrophysicist Yuan Weimin, the mission’s principal investigator, from the National Astronomical Observatory of Beijing.
If the nation continues its current efforts, it could soon be a leader in space observation, something it seems very proud of.