To Boost Astro Tourism in India, Govt To Set Up India’s First-Ever "Night Sky Sanctuary"

In what could be called as unique and first-of-its-kind initiative in India's science & astronomy history, the Department of Science & Technology (DST) under Ministry of Science & Technology, Govt of India, has undertaken to set up India’s first-ever "Night Sky Sanctuary" in Ladakh in order to boost Astro tourism in India as one of the world’s highest-located sites for optical, infra-red, and gamma-ray telescopes.

The proposed Dark Sky Reserve, which will be completed within next three months, is situated at Hanle in Ladakh.

The upcoming Night Sky Sanctuary will be a part of Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary, informed Dr Jitendra Singh, the Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Science & Technology.

Notably, Hanle is a historic village and home to the world's tallest astronomical observatory, and it was designated as a Dark Sky Sanctuary by The Union Territory administration in Ladakh, in early this year. Hanle is also home to a special "cherenkov telescope" called as "Major Atmospheric Cerenkov Experiment Telescope (MACE)". It is the highest (in altitude) and second largest Cerenkov telescope in the world.

For the launch of Night Sky Sanctuary the site, a tripartite MoU has been signed among the the Union Territory administration, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Leh and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA).

The upcoming "Dark Space Reserve" site will have activities to help in boosting local tourism and economy through interventions of Science and Technology. All the stakeholders will jointly work towards the preservation of the night sky from unwanted light pollution and illumination, which is a serious threat to the scientific observations and natural sky conditions. It may be noted that Hanle is best suited for this project as it is located in Ladakh’s cold desert region, away from any form of human disturbance and clear sky conditions and dry weather conditions exist throughout the year, the Minister added.

Besides, few private companies are also working on boosting astro-tourism in the country. Starscapes, a leading astro-tourism company in India, has been actively working towards promoting Dark Sky Locations in India in a bid to boost interest in astro-tourism

Earlier in last month, IIT Hyderabad established its first astronomical observatory with a large telescope for public outreach.

Prior to this, in  June this year, India's 1st and Asia's largest liquid mirror telescope was launched in Uttarakhand at campus of Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES) to keep a watch on the overhead sky to identify transient or variable objects such as supernovae, gravitational lenses, space debris, and asteroids.

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