Friday, June 22, 2012

Solar Telescope in Ladakh

Pangong lake is one of the most picturesque tourist spots in east Ladakh. It became even more famous, when a film song from one of the Bollywood super hits, was picturized here. Tall mountains with snow clad peaks, surround the azure blue waters of the lake from all sides. Any visitor, who visits this place gets spellbound with the stunning beauty of nature here. This lake is at a height of 14270 feet and is 134 KM long and 5 KM wide. As per present political situation,  this lake is right on the India-Tibet border with 3/4 of its area in possession of China.

Science and Technology department of the Government of India,  has recently taken a decision to erect a 2 meter diameter Solar Telescope on the bank of this lake. This place has been selected because of long sun light hours throughout the year and with almost zero pollution in the air. There are one or two small villages like Spangamik in the vicinity. These villages have no means of livelihood except for cultivation of sheep, that produce Pashmina wool, and summer time tourist traffic. This project should improve living conditions of these people.

Gigantic activities continuously take place on surface of the sun because of the atomic reactions going on there. These include solar flairs,  hundreds of miles high and the dark spots formed on the surface, These raging events on sun,  create major magnetic storms on earth and streams of tiny particle are let into space, hammering all objects around the sun. This is known as solar wind and is a major problem area for man made satellites orbiting the earth.  To watch and observe the sun for any such upcoming solar phenomenon, solar telescopes have been installed at many places in the world. La-Palma islands belonging to Spain, host a Swedish made 1 meter diameter Solar Telescope. In the state of Arizona in US, Macmuth-Pierce Solar Telescope, having 1.6 meter diameter, is presently the larges in the world. The Ladakh Solar Telescope at Merak, when completed would be largest such facility in the world.
Swedish 1 meter diameter Solar Telescope

Two major difficulties are faced in the operation of Solar telescopes. The land in the vicinity of such telescopes gets heated up,  creating turbulence in the air just above. Such turbulence affects the resolution of the telescope. To avoid this problem, the solar telescopes are installed inside high concrete towers.  Secondly, the incoming sunlight heats up the air within the telescope. To overcome this difficulty, suitable air conditioning equipment is required to be fitted. Ladakh has extremes of weather and would require some such arrangement for sure.
Any person, who has visited Pangong lake would immediately agree that this is perhaps the best site for this project because of crystal clear air and almost total absence of almost any cloud cover any time of the year. This makes the selection of this site ideal.
Telescope at Hanle, Ladakh

A large telescope for night observations, already exists at Hanle village near Skarchu river in the Changthang region of Ladakh. The Solar Telescope at Merak would be a good new complimentary addition installed not very far from this place.

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