Hanle’s locational advantage is exploited for a variety of experiments by astronomers and scientists in other fields. IIA is collaborating with other institutions on the measurements of continental deformation using Global Positioning Satellite stations, and in monitoring the global concentration of carbon dioxide, a green-house gas. The site offers an opportunity to measure the composition of air masses coming from North-west India or from Central Asia, two regions which are poorly documented. The Laboratoire des Sciences due Climate et de 1 ‘Environment, France, is coordinating the measurement of greenhouse gases over an international network, covering over 15 permanent sites in Europe and Asia. IIA and the French agency are collaborating on a project aimed at improving our knowledge of the distribution of carbon sources in India and Central Asia.
If you are planning to visit the Hanle Observatory you can stay at their guest house. However since 2012, the guest house is no longer open to public and you can no longer book rooms there.
In the field of astronomy, a 50-cm photometry telescope has been set up in collaboration with the Macdonell Centre Washington University, St Louis USA for continuous monitoring of active galactic nuclei. The telescope’s counterpart is in Arizona (USA) some180 degrees apart in longitude. The telescope pair would together constitute what is known as an antipodal transient observatory.
The HCT remote control center in Hosakote is part of the Centre for Research and Education in science and Technology (CREST), a new campus of Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore. CREST has a state-of-the-art laboratory for space sciences, named after Professor M.G.K. Menon, a well-known scientist.
The Centre will have three or four major laboratories for photonics, adaptive optics and detector technologies. IIA has already marked its presence in a few selected areas of great significance. One is the making of a one-metre mirror to replace a degraded one installed in 1972 at Kavalur. Besides meeting the technical challenge, the designers of the Photonics Division of the IIA had to overcome the doubts expressed in some quarters that the new mirror which was a little heavier than the old one, would collapse! More recently, the IIA was involved in the design of ultraviolet telescope for the ASTROSAT that would image in three channels. It is a completely new area involving considerable innovation and testing under clean room conditions. Research work continues towards building an adaptive optics system. A simplified approach based on a new wavefront sensing technique has been tried.
In the case of gamma ray detectors at Hanle, the design work successfully addressed the challenging requirement of completing the scanning by all the seven telescopes set up for the purpose in 100 milliseconds. The detectors are now operational.
IIA is setting up a Centre for Astronomical Instruments at Hoskote to complement the major observatories. Instruments, they say, can go as far as the users are capable of using them. Accordingly IIA has initiated a scheme aimed at the development of highly qualified manpower through innovative offers including generous financial packages that encourage dedicated research in frontier areas.
Hanle promises exciting scientific returns in several fields: observational cosmology and large structure of the Universe; quasars and active galactic nuclei; galaxies that seem to be moving away from us; evolution of galaxies including extragalactic supernovae; stellar evolution including star-forming regions and complementary role related to radio, gamma ray and x-ray telescopes.
In the words of Prof. Govind Swarup, Professor of Eminence, Hanle may become a great asset to astronomy in India and even beyond its borders.
Hanle is a milestone in the human journey towards an unknown Universe. Who knows, during this exciting quest, many a gem of received wisdom may be turned on its head!
An Optical Telescope for Training
Human resource development begins at the student level. Commendable teaching was done at the Centre for Advanced Study in Astronomy of the Osmania University. The Japal-Rangapur Observatory near Hyderabad was commissioned in 1968. It has a variety of systems to familiarize the students with many new techniques of observation. Several universities also offer astronomy courses. In view of the long-felt need for a centre of excellence for training and research in astronomy, a major centre was set up in Pune known as the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCCA), an autonomous institution of the University Grants Commission. IUCCA has an optical telescope dedicated to the astronomical community in India, particularly for training university teachers and students. The telescope was inaugurated in 2006. The telescope is located on a hill, 1100 m above sea level near the Girawali village on the Junnar-Ghodegaon road off the Pune-Nasik Highway. The site was selected considering the number of cloud-free nights, the nature of wind flow, the level of the dust and water vapour and the extent of light pollution in the area.
Made by a UK-based company, the telescope’s primary mirror has a diameter of 2 metres and it is polished to an accuracy of 1/2000th thickness of a human hair. It can track a celestial object to an accuracy of 1/8000 of the full Moon’s diameter. It can observe the sky in the optical, near-infrared and near ultraviolet regions.