China commissions huge telescope near Beijing

Wed Nov 5, 2008 7:34am EST
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BEIJING (Reuters) - China is commissioning a strangely shaped telescope in the forested hills northeast of Beijing that Chinese scientists said will be the world's most efficient tool for mapping the galaxy in three dimensions.

Unlike most such instruments, where the whole telescope moves to follow the object being studied in the sky, the Chinese design features a fixed structure and two moveable, segmented mirrors.

Rather than the traditional dome shape employed for most large telescopes, China's new instrument looks like a large, white, skewed pi symbol.

Built by the National Astronomical Observatories, which belongs to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope, or LAMOST, cost 235 million yuan ($34.40 million), state news agency Xinhua said on Wednesday.

"We have yet to shape a clear idea about our galaxy's structure," Chu Yaoquan, LAMOST project scientist and an astrophysicist at the University of Science and Technology of China, told Xinhua.

"By parsing spectra of millions of stars in the Milky Way, we would have a chance to get the whole history of the galaxy."

LAMOST has an effective aperture of more than four meters and 4,000 optical fibers -- the most of any telescope in the world -- that can simultaneously track and decode starlight into spectrographic data.

(Reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Paul Tait)