NAOC constructs and operates a wide variety of instruments including a 2.4-m optical telescope, a 2.16-m aperture reflector telescope, a multiple-tube solar magnetograph, two 50-m and 40-m radio telescopes, just to name a few.
A national large-scale science project, Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopy Telescope (LAMOST) was completed in 2008, and is now in the commission period. The innovative concept and technology development (active optics for both thin mirror and segmented mirror on the Schmidt corrector MA, parallel controllable fiber positioning system) make it feasible to fulfill the requirements of a large aperture and a wide field of view (FOV) simultaneously. Equipped with this large FOV optics and up to 4000 fibers on the focal plane, this 4.8m/6.1m meridian reflecting Schmidt telescope promises an unparalleled observing efficiency and a wealth of new discoveries. It will prove invaluabe in understanding the structure and evolution of the universe, and of our own Galaxy as well.
The official ground-breaking ceremonies of another national large-scale science project, Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), took place in late 2008. When finished, it will be the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope. It will provide astronomers the otherwise unattainable tools and resources to detect galaxies at unprecedented distances and faint fast-period pulsars.
The 21 Centimeter Array (21CMA) has been formally in operation since 2007, The array consisting of 81 pods along two perpendicular arms (6km+4km) allows us to reach an angular resolution of 4 arcmin and a sensitivity of about 1 mK per day. Detection of 21 cm emission/absorption signatures of neutral hydrogen at z=6-50 against cosmic microwave background will provide a unique tool for study of formation of first stars/QSOs in the universe, for understanding of reionization histories and for mapping of 3D matter distribution at high redshifts. 21CMA is regarded as a pioneer project among the international efforts for this purpose. Besides, 21CMA can also be used for radio detection of tau neutrinos.
NAOC has also made steady progress in space mission program. NAOC initiated the Chinese-French Space Variable Object Monitor (SVOM) mission, a multi-band Gamma-Ray Burst (GRB) project. It is designed to detect about 80 GRBs of all known types per year, including those at very high redshift. NAOC is also a major partner of World Space Observatory – Ultraviolet (WSO-UV), and in particular, is responsible for designing and constructing the Long Slit Spectrograph on board the satellite. With the capability in the UV domain, Chinese astronomers are especially interested in the study of the reionization and the formation of large scale structure, and atmospheric composition of extrasolar planets.
Since the Chinese exploration team reached Dome A, the highest point of the Antarctic ice cap, in 2005, China shows its aspiration to build an Antarctica station and carry out related scientific researches. NAOC and PMO had led a comprehensive site evaluation of Dome A. Based on the results, Dome A may boast the best observational conditions on earth. China is planning to establish observation platforms and build optical/infrared wide field survey and sub-millimeter/THz telescopes on Dome A. These facilities will provide a critical opportunity to address the nature of dark matter and dark energy, search for extrasolar planets and supernovae, and monitor transient objects, etc.
In planning future large facilities, apart from the Chinese Antarctic Observatory, NAOC and the Chinese astronomical community has reached the concensus that China should join the international efforts in building next generation 30m Class Telescopes. This will help promote Chinese astronomical scientific and technical research and cultivate next generation of Chinese astronomers. Chinese astronomers and technical experts alike are working together to advance the project.