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World-class Optical Telescope Activated in India
Apr 02, 2016

India’s largest ground-based optical telescope was switched on by remote on March 30 in Devasthal, Nainital in Uttarakhand by the Prime Ministers of India and Belgium from Brussels, during Narendra Modi’s day-long visit to the country.

The instrument is part of a widening foray into observational research in astronomy that India has undertaken since the 1960s, and bolstered with the successful launch of its first multi-wavelength satellite (ASTROSAT) in September 2015.

  • The telescope is the product of an Indo-Belgian collaborative effort, assisted by the Russian Academy of Sciences, that was started in 2007.

  • This telescope will be operated by the Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES), an autonomous research body under the Department of Science and Technology.

  • The Devasthal optical telescope is also Asia’s largest ground-based optical telescope, succeeding the Vainu Bappu Observatory in Kavalur, Tamil Nadu.

  • Its defining feature is a 3.6-metre-wide primary mirror, which will collect light from its field of view and focus it onto a 0.9-m secondary mirror, which in turn will divert it into various detectors for analysis.

  • This arrangement, called the Ritchey-Chretien Design, is also what ASTROSAT employs, but with a 30cm-wide primary mirror. In fact, the mirrors and six instruments of ASTROSAT all weigh 1,500 kg while the Devasthal telescope’s primary mirror alone weighs 4,000 kg.

  • The Devasthal telescope is located in a relatively advantageous position for itself—atop a peak 2.5 km high in the Western Himalaya, 50 km west of Nainital.

  • The telescope will be able to log the physical and chemical properties of stars and star clusters; high-energy radiation emanating from sources like blackholes; and the formation and properties of exoplanets.

The data will be analysed using three attendant detectors:

1. High-resolution Spectrograph, developed by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bengaluru

2. Near Infrared Imaging Camera, developed by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai

3. Low-resolution Spectroscopic Camera

India has collaborated with a Belgian company, Advanced Mechanical and Optical Systems (AMOS) to produce this telescope, which is the first of its kind in the whole of Asia. AMOS, was contracted in 2007 to build and install the mirrors.

After technical activation, the ARIES now joins a cluster of scopes at the Indian astronomical research community’s disposal to survey the skies at various wavelengths. Some of these other scopes are the Giant Metre-wave Radio Telescope, Pune; Multi Application Solar Telescope, Udaipur; MACE gamma-ray telescope, Hanle; Indian Astronomical Observatory, Leh; Pachmarhi Array of Cherenkov Telescopes, Pachmarhi; and the Ooty Radio Telescope, Udhagamandalam.

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