India’s First Robotic Tele­scope at Hanle in Ladakh

The tele­scope lo­cated at the In­dian As­tro­nom­i­cal Ob­ser­va­tory (IAO) at Hanle in Ladakh is the coun­try’s first robotic tele­scope and the first one de­signed to ob­serve dy­namic or tran­sient events in the uni­verse.

Alive - - Con­tents - by G.V.Joshi

In­dia’s first ro­botic tele­scope at Hanle in Ladakh has opened its eyes to the uni­verse. Called Growth-In­dia, the tele­scope is a part of a multi-na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tive project known as ‘Global Re­lay of Ob­ser­va­to­ries Watch­ing Tran­sients Hap­pen’ (GROWTH) to ob­serve tran­sient events in the uni­verse. Ro­botic means any de­vice that op­er­ates au­to­mat­i­cally or by re­mote con­trol. A tran­sient as­tro­nom­i­cal event, or a ‘tran­sient’ for short, is an as­tro­nom­i­cal phe­nom­e­non whose du­ra­tion may be from a few sec­onds to days, weeks, or even sev­eral years. The term is used for gamma ray bursts, tran­sits of plan­ets, eclipses etc. Hanle is a vil­lage in Ladakh in Jammu and Kash­mir.

In the words of Dr G. C. Anu­pama, Pro­fes­sor of As­tron­omy and in-charge of In­dian As­tro­nom­i­cal Ob­ser­va­tory (IAO), as well as the Cen­tre for Re­search and Ed­u­ca­tion in Science and Tech­nol­ogy (CREST) at the In­dian In­sti­tute of As­tro­physics (IIA), based at Ban­galuru, The tele­scope saw its first light on the night of 12 June 2018.

In the words of Atharva Patil, a stu­dent of as­tron­omy and Shub­ham Sri­vas­tav, a post­doc­toral fel­low - both from In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy Bom­bay (IITB), Mum­bai, “For the first light, tar­gets were cho­sen from the Messier cat­a­logue - a cat­a­logue of nearby, bright as­tro­nom­i­cal sources ac­ces­si­ble from the north­ern hemi­sphere.

These cho­sen re­gions are not only rich in stars, thereby al­low­ing for var­i­ous image qual­ity tests but are also vis­ually stun­ning.”

Both of them are in­volved with the in­stal­la­tion of the tele­scope. Uni­ver­si­ties and re­search in­sti­tutes from the US, the UK, Ja­pan, In­dia, Ger­many, Tai­wan and Is­rael are part of

the project. “To­gether with part­ner tele­scopes strate­gi­cally lo­cated around the world, as­tronomers can con­tin­u­ously mon­i­tor any in­ter­est­ing ob­ject in the sky un­in­ter­rupted by day­light,” ex­plained Dr Anu­pama.

Joint project

The Rs 3.5 crore tele­scope is a joint project of the Ban­galuru-based IIA and the IITB. It is fully funded by the Science and En­gi­neer­ing Re­search Board (SERB) of the De­part­ment of Science and Tech­nol­ogy (DST) and ad­min­is­tered by the Indo-US Science and Tech­nol­ogy Fo­rum. Dr Anu­pama of IIA and Dr Varun Bhalerao of IIT Bom­bay are the prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tors of the project in In­dia. In ad­di­tion to the new tele­scope, there are a few more tele­scopes of IAO in Hanle — the Hi­malayan Chan­dra Tele­scope, the high al­ti­tude gamma-ray ar­ray tele­scope (HAGAR), and the imag­ing Cherenkov tele­scope (MACE).

The tele­scope is ex­pected to gen­er­ate enor­mous amounts of data. It is also pro­grammed to di­rectly com­mu­ni­cate with dif­fer­ent ground-based and space-based sur­veys search­ing for tran­sient sources. Tran­sients of­ten leave their sig­na­tures in var­i­ous elec­tro­mag­netic wave­length bands, which as­tronomers try to cap­ture us­ing tele­scopes that are sen­si­tive to a va­ri­ety of wavelengths — from gamma-rays to in­fra-red, very high to very low fre­quen­cies.

Dr Anu­pama holds a doc­tor­ate in As­tron­omy from IIA. She has guided a num­ber of stu­dents for PhD in as­tron­omy. Dr Varun Bhalerao did his B.Tech from IITB, Mum­bai fol­lowed by PhD in As­tro­physics from Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (CAL­TECH) in the US un­der Dr Shrini­vas Kulka­rni, Di­rec­tor, CAL­TECH and brother of Sudha Murthy wife of Dr Narayan Murthy of In­fosys, a pi­o­neer of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy in In­dia. Cur­rently, he is work­ing at In­ter-Univer­sity Cen­tre for As­tron­omy and As­tro­physics (IU­CAA) based at Pune. He is an ex­pert in build­ing in­stru­ments for tele­scopes.

The tele­scope is ex­pected to gen­er­ate enor­mous amounts of data. It is also pro­grammed to di­rectly com­mu­ni­cate with dif­fer­ent ground-based and space-based sur­veys search­ing for tran­sient sources. Tran­sients of­ten leave their sig­na­tures in var­i­ous elec­tro­mag­netic wave­length bands, which as­tronomers try to cap­ture us­ing tele­scopes that are sen­si­tive to a va­ri­ety of wavelengths — from gamma-rays to in­fra-red, very high to very low fre­quen­cies.

In­side the dome of GROWTH — In­di­aʼs tele­scope at Hanle.

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