Robotic telescope begins operations in Ladakh

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BENGALURU: To observe cosmic events lasting for a short time, the country’s first robotic telescope jointly constructed by Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bengaluru, and IIT Bombay became operational in the second week of June at the Indian Astronomical Observatory at Hanle in Ladakh.

It is a part of the international GROWTH (Global Relay of Observatories) Watching Transients Happen) network. This means that a celestial object can be observed day and night with a network of telescopes worldwide.

Dr GC Anupama, one of the principal investigators, and Dean, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, said, “There are several robotic telescopes in the world. There is nothing unique about the GROWTH telescope in the broad sense. But, its uniqueness within the country is due to its robotic nature and readiness to respond quickly to discovery of new transients. It augments our capability to observe the transient sky.”

The telescope is robotic in the sense that the control software of the telescope will, depending on the sky conditions, automatically open up the dome, do the calibration, carry out the observation, and shut the dome at the close of observations. The other professional telescopes in the country do not operate in this manner.

“With the GROWTH telescope, we hope to be able to study more electromagnetic counterparts of gravitational wave events such as the one detected on August 17 last year. This event was due to a merger of two neutron stars. The international GROWTH team conducted one of the most complete multi-wavelength follow up observations of the event and confirmed that neutron star mergers are the cosmic mines where heavy elements are produced,” she added.

Dr Varun Bhalerao from IIT Bombay is the other Principal Investigator from the country. “Observations of many interesting events such as young supernovae and neutron star mergers within the first 24 hrs provide critical clues about their evolution mechanisms,” Dr Anupama said. Prof Tushar Prabhu, a former scientist with Indian Institute of Astrophysics, said, “To follow up whenever a new transient is seen, a network of telescopes is required to observe.”

To study new supernovae, gravitational waves, new asteroids near the earth, rocks in space of the size between the earth and other planets, and objects in the solar system, of which some of them may come too close to the earth, we need to follow them up quickly.” It may be daytime in one observatory and night-time in another observatory so to continuously observe with a network of telescopes all over the world helps in observing fast moving objects in the sky.