Stars and galaxies in the universe may appear to be static to us as they are located millions of light years away but they are moving part from each other along with lot of interesting objects and events such as supernovae, gamma ray bursts, active galactic nuclei, and many more are occurring every second in the dynamic and infinite universe. To catch this, India has got its newest telescope to start observing the skies using robotic operations.
The remote village of Hanle in Ladakh, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, now houses the Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO), which at 4,500 metres above sea level is one of the world’s highest, and affords some of the clearest views of the skies. Since June 12, it’s also been home to India’s first robotic telescope, a device with a 70-cm lens that will also join network of 17 other countries across the globe. This network program is called as GROWTH — Global Relay of Observatories Watching Transients Happen. Observatories in this network are located in a way that will allow uninterrupted observation of transient events.
A robotic telescope is an astronomical telescope and detector system that makes observations without the intervention of a human.
Interestingly, fully robotic telescope will be remotely operated from 3,000 km away Indian Institute of Astrophysics’s Centre For Research and Education in Science and Technology near Bangalore. The facility houses the control room for remote operations of the HCT and is the data hub for the telescope. The new telescope will be programmed to directly communicate with various ground-based and space-based surveys that are searching for transient sources.
The fully robotic telescope at Hanle costing Rs. 3.5 crore has been funded by the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) of the Department of Science and Technology. “The telescope is equipped with a sensitive camera that can detect some of the faint transients found by our partner survey telescopes like the Zwicky Transient Facility at Palomar, California.
For astronomers tracking transient events (short-lived cosmic occurrences that can last mere hours or days), this is a bonanza. When a survey telescope detects the start of something interesting, all GROWTH telescopes respond, says GC Anupama, an astrophysicist with the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIAp), who heads the project. “Rapid and constant communication within the network ensures a quick follow-up by the facilities that are suitably located. It allows researchers to gather data in the first 24 hours of an event to understand, on a physics level, what’s happening and why.”
Universities and research institutes from the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Japan, India, Germany, Taiwan and Israel are part of the initiative. The primary research objective of the project is time domain astronomy, which entails the study of explosive transients and variable sources in the universe.
“Together with partner telescopes strategically located around the world, we can continuously monitor any interesting object in the sky – uninterrupted by daylight,” Anupama said.
By 2004, robotic observations accounted for an overwhelming percentage of the published scientific information on asteroid orbits and discoveries, variable star studies, supernova light curves and discoveries, comet orbits and gravitational microlensing observations.
It must also be noted that all early phase Gamma ray burst observations were carried by robotic telescopes.