New telescopes to study early universe

China is working to set up the world's highest-altitude gravitational wave telescopes in the Tibet autonomous region, to detect the faintest echoes of processes relating to the early universe that may reveal more about the Big Bang.

Construction has started on the first telescope, code-named Ngari No. 1, 30 kilometers south of Shiquanhe town in Ngari Prefecture, said Yao Yongqiang, chief researcher with the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The telescope, located 5,250 meters above sea level, will detect and gather precise data on primordial gravitational waves in the Northern Hemisphere. It is expected to be operational by 2021.

Yao said the second phase involves a series of telescopes, code-named Ngari No. 2, to be located about 6,000 meters above sea level. He did not give a time frame for construction of phase two.

The budget for the two-phase Ngari gravitational wave observatory is an estimated 130 million yuan ($18.9 million). The project was initiated by the Institute of High Energy Physics, the National Astronomical Observatories, and the Shanghai Institute of Microsystem and Information Technology, among others.

Ngari, with its high altitude, clear sky, and minimal human activity, is said to be one of the world's best spots to detect tiny twists in cosmic light.

Yao said the Ngari observatory will be among the world's top primordial gravitational wave observation bases, alongside the South Pole Telescope and the facility in Chile's Atacama Desert.

Gravitational waves were first proposed by Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity 100 years ago, but it wasn't until last year that scientists with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory announced proof of the waves' existence, spurring fresh interest among the world's scientists.

China has announced its own gravitational wave research plans, which include the launch of satellites and the setting up of FAST, a 500-meter aperture spherical radio telescope in Southwest China's Guizhou province.