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China to probe black holes, search for aliens

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China will ramp up its space exploration plans from 2014, with shiny new kit to probe black holes, study dark matter and search for signs of alien life, according to one of the country’s top astro-boffins.

Su Dingqiang, former president of the Chinese Astronomical Society and member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, revealed the plans to local media at the opening ceremony of the International Astronomical Union (IAU)'s 28th General Assembly on Tuesday.

He said that a hard x-ray modulation telescope (HXMT), currently under construction, will be sent into orbit around the Earth between 2014 and 2016 using a Ziyuan II satellite, according to Xinhua.

The HXMT project web site has the following on the telescope:

Hard X-ray band is a key waveband for high energy astrophysics study. Exploring various kinds of black holes is a major frontier of physics and astronomy in the new century. Hard X-rays originate mostly from regions closest to black holes and are highly penetrative, and are therefore important tools for studying the physical processes in the extreme conditions such as high matter density, high energy density, high electric-magnetic field, and high gravitational field.

Also planned is a dark matter particle explorer (DAMPE), expected to be launched by 2015, as well as a telescope to study the solar magnetic field and a joint project with France to study gamma ray bursts, the report said.

Always striving to be the biggest and best on Earth, China is also set to complete the world’s largest radio telescope in 2016.

The 500-metre aperture single dish giant is being built in in Guizhou province, southern China, at a cost of over 700 million yuan (£69.3m).

It’s designed to be three times more sensitive than the current world record holder, meaning that it should be able to see further into space than ever before.

For the record, it will supplant the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico – known to Bond fans as the setting for the climax of Brosnan flick Goldeneye – as the world’s largest and most sensitive single aperture telescope. ®

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