Last updated on October 1st, 2022 at 07:09 am
India is rapidly advancing in the field of space technology and has become among the most powerful space giants. This was not an overnight process. Scientists and engineers have been working on these projects from quite a long time. This process has given birth to various astronomical observatories across the Indian subcontinent. These observatories are the wonders of science and technology with state-of-the-art facilities and equipment. India is planning to establish its first Dark Sky Reserve, in the Hanle region of the Union Territory of Ladakh, by the end of 2022. In this article, I will briefly discuss 10 world-class astronomical observatories of India. Note that the order in which they are listed is of no relevance.
1. High Altitude Gamma Ray Observatory (HAGAR)
It is located in Hanle, Ladakh (32 47′ 46″ N). The HAGAR is an Astronomical Cerenkov Experiment. It has 7 telescopes in a circular pattern whose diameter is 50m. Each of the satellites has 7 mirrors of a total area of 4.4 sq. meters, thus the total light gathering area of 7 telescopes is 31 sq. meters. The HAGAR is officially operated by TIFR and IIR. The prime targets include Active Galactic Nuclei (AGNs) and Gamma Ray pulsar.
2. Major Atmospheric Cerenkov Experiment (MACE) Telescope
MACE is the world’s highest altitude and second largest Cerenkov telescope. It is established in Hanle, Ladakh. It has the second largest Gamma Ray telescope in the world (India’s largest) and is used for the understandings in the field of Astrophysics, Fundamental Physics, and Particle Acceleration mechanism. It will observe high energy phenomena in the energy range of 20GeV to 10TeV. It may also aid the search of the mysterious dark matter. It is built by Electronics Corporation of India, Hyderabad, for the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). It is operational since 2016, it runs on solar power and is remotely operated. Along with HAGAR this telescope forms the so called Himalayan Gamma Ray Observatory or HiGRO.
3. Himalayan Chandra Telescope
Just neighboring the HAGAR telescopes, the Himalayan Chandra Telescope is also located in Hanle, Ladakh. Popularly it is also called the Indian Astronomical Observatory. It has a telescope mirror with diameter 2m which can take both optical as well as infrared images. One of the main focuses of this telescope has been to observe extreme and very short-lived phenomena, popularly termed as “transients”. It is also used to search for extrasolar planets (i.e. planets orbiting stars other than our Sun). It is operated by Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bengaluru and remotely operated by a satellite communication link from the Centre for Research & Education in Science & Technology (CREST), Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Hosakote, about 35 km northeast of Bengaluru.
4. Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Services (ARIES)
ARIES is located in Devasthal, Nainital (29.3612° N, 79.6841° E). It has 2 telescopes operated in joint efforts between Belgium, Russia, and India. But, the majority of the expenses for this project is paid by India. It is one of the biggest telescopes in Asia with a diameter of 3.6 m on the main. The other telescope has a diameter of 1.3 m. The research interests are quite vast comprising solar, planetary, stellar, galactic and extra-galactic astronomy. It also studies aerosols and trace gases in the lower part of the atmosphere. The value of this project is approximately INR 120 crores.
5. Udaipur Solar Observatory
This Observatory is located on a man-made island in Fateh Sagar Lake, Udaipur (24.6014° N, 73.6742° E). It has a 50 cm telescope. The lake around it provides a reduction in air turbulence by absorbing the heat and thus providing accuracy and quality. This observatory studies solar flares, mass ejections and the evolution of solar active regions. It is operated by the Physical Research Lab, Ahmedabad for Department of Space, Govt. of India.
6. Mount Abu InfraRed Observatory (MIRO)
Located near Mount Abu, beside Guru Shikhar, Rajasthan MIRO has 3 telescopes. It has mirrors with diameters 1.2m used as an IR telescope, 50cm used for observing variable sources like AGNs and comet, 43cm used to follow up exoplanet transits and 2.5m telescope which is yet to be fully operational. The low amount of precipitable water vapor near Guru Shikhar makes it a good place for IR telescopic observations. It also has its own cooling system using liquid nitrogen to keep the instruments cool. It is operated under the Physical Research Laboratory, a unit of Department of Space, Govt. of India.
7. Vainu Bappu Observatory
Located in Vellore, Tamil Nadu (12.9165° N, 79.1325° E), Vainu Bappu Observatory contains 3 telescopes. The largest is the 2.3m diameter Vainu Bappu Telescope. The other two are a 1m Zeiss made telescope and a 75cm Cassegrain reflector. Dr. Vainu Bappu expired before the construction of the observatory could be finished, the observatory was named in his honor. The telescope at this observatory is powerful enough to resolve a 25 paisa coin (currently not in use as a currency) from a distance of about 40 km. The observatory is operated by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.
8. GRAPES – 3
The Gamma Ray Astronomy PeV Energies phase-3 (GRAPES-3) experiment lab is located in Ooty (11.4064° N, 76.6932° E). It is started as a collaboration of the Indian TATA Institute of Fundamental Research and Japanese Osaka City University and now also include Japanese Nagoya Women’s University. It has the world’s largest muon telescope, muons are unstable and short-lived particles produced when cosmic rays hit the earth. At present, GRAPES-3 array is the highest density conventional EAS array in the world, and also, this experiment associated with a huge 560 m2 area tracking muon detector, is also the largest area tracking detector anywhere.
9. Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope
Located in Narayangaon, 80 km from Pune (19.1229° N, 73.9771° E), it consists of 30 radio telescopes each of 45 m diameter. The Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) is one of the most sensitive radio telescopes on earth in its frequency range. One of the main aims for the GMRT during its development was decided to be searching for the highly redshifted 21-cm line radiation from primordial neutral hydrogen clouds in order to determine the epoch of galaxy formation in the universe. It is operated by the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics and TATA Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai.
10. ISRO Astrosat
Astrosat is India’s first dedicated multi-wavelength space telescope. The unique property of this telescope is that it is located in space. Astrosat is able to perform operations and take an observation in Infrared, Ultraviolet and X-rays, that too simultaneously. It is said to collect an approximate of over 420 GB worth of data every day. Based on the success of Astrosat, ISRO has proposed to launch Astrosat-2 by the year 2020. The Ground Command and Control Center for Astrosat is the ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC), Bangalore, India.
- High Altitude Gamma Ray Observatory (HAGAR)
- Himalayan Chandra Observatory
- Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Services (ARIES)
- Udaipur Solar Observatory
- Mount Abu InfraRed Observatory (MIRO)
- Vainu Bappu Observatory
- GRAPES – 3
- Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope
- ISRO Astrosat
- Major Atmospheric Cerenkov Experiment (MACE) Telescope
Akshat Mishra is currently pursuing his doctoral degree in Physics from Lund University in Sweden. He feels the need to explore the depths of the not-so-dark universe while at the same time watch the quanta in action. Electronic Music is what puts him in the thinking zone.