China radio telescope
China to build world's largest steerable radio telescope -- Representational Image STR/AFP/Getty Images

China has approved the plan of building the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope – a facility that would 'listen' to cosmic sounds and unlock some of the biggest mysteries of the universe, covering 75% of the skies.

The new telescope, dubbed Qitai Radio Telescope (QTT), will be developed in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region with mountains all around – keeping it safe from stray radio frequencies. It will be working in tandem with Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) telescope, which is the current largest radio telescope in the world, also located in China.

However, unlike FAST and Arecibo Observatory, the second biggest on the list, the new, 6,000-ton telescope will feature a rotating circular dish measuring 110m in diameter. This would enable scientists to steer around to directly aim at specific targets, covering a staggering 75% of the skies.

The unique feature would make QTT the biggest steerable radio telescope in the world upon completion.
Specifically, the dish of the Chinese telescope would be 10% bigger in diameter than that of Green Bank telescope in West Virginia, the current largest in the world of this kind.

Overall, the operational frequency of the new telescope will go from 150 MHz to 115 GHz. However, working with FAST, the frequencies of the two telescopes will overlap in a range of 150 MHz-3 GHz. This would help scientists 'listen' to weird cosmic signals and find answers to questions related to some of the biggest mysteries of the universe such as aliens, gravitational waves, dark matter, and black holes.

"The partially overlapping frequency range of the QTT and FAST means that the detection of a candidate signal by one telescope can be followed up immediately by the other instrument, assuming the data is being analyzed in real time," Doug Vakoch from METI International told CNET.

The current targeted timeline for bringing QTT into service is around 2023. "The antenna, the world's largest, will be able to trace the origins of any signals received," said Song Huagang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Xinjiang observatory, which is undertaking the construction of the project after years of research.