GROWTH-India’s First Robotic Telescope | 21 Nov 2018

India’s first robotic telescope and the first one designed to observe dynamic or transient events in the universe has started observing the skies.

  • The telescope is located at the Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO) at Hanle in Ladakh.
  • The telescope is a joint project of the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) and the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB).
  • It is fully funded by the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) under the Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) project, administered by Indo US Science and Technology Forum.
    • The primary goal of PIRE is to support high quality projects in which advances in research and education could not occur without international collaboration.
  • Called GROWTH-India, the facility at Hanle is part of a multi-country collaborative initiative known as Global Relay of Observatories Watching Transients Happen (GROWTH) to observe transient events in the universe.
  • The telescope also has the badge of being housed in the one of the world’s highest astronomical observatories at 4,500 meters.
  • The 70 cm robotic telescope joins other larger facilities at IAO in Hanle - the Himalayan Chandra Telescope, the gamma-ray array telescope (HAGAR), and the imaging Cherenkov telescope (MACE).

Global Relay of Observatories Watching Transients Happen (GROWTH)

  • The GROWTH program is a 5 year project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF is a United States government agency whose mission includes support for all fields of fundamental science and engineering, except for medical sciences.
  • It is an international collaborative network of astronomers and telescopes dedicated to the study of short-lived cosmic transients and near-earth asteroids.
  • Cosmic transients are energetic flashes of light that are millions to billions of times the brightness of the sun, e.g. explosive deaths of massive stars, white dwarf detonations, etc.
  • Key follow-up observations of fast-fading or fast-moving events must occur at night promptly after discovery but before the sun rises.
  • Therefore, a relay or network of telescopes spanning multiple longitudes (time-zones) on earth is required to pass the baton amongst each other to effectively extend the night-time darkness.
  • GROWTH enables detailed monitoring of events that would otherwise vanish before the next night.
  • Its goals are threefold:
    • Search for explosions in the optical regime whenever Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) group detects a Binary Neutron Star merger.
    • Study nearby young supernova explosions.
    • Study nearby asteroids.
  • Universities and research institutes from the US, the UK, Japan, India, Germany, Taiwan and Israel are part of the initiative.