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India likely to offer gamma-ray telescope site in Leh

MUMBAI: India plans to offer an astronomical site at Hanle, in Leh, for an international collaboration which is exploring the possibility of setting up two large gamma-ray telescope arrays in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, a senior astronomer said.

The international collaboration is planning Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA) in both the hemispheres to enhance the understanding of the high energy Universe, Prof Ramesh Koul, Head, Astrophysical Sciences Division of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) said.

They are expected to be operational by 2018 enabling a 24x7 observation of the universe, Koul said at a public lecture series 'Vistas' in Astronomy at Nehru Planetarium here.

In keeping with the global efforts, the Himalayan gamma-ray Observatory (HiGRO) is being set up jointly by the scientists of Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and BARC at the high altitude (4200 m above sea level) astronomical site at Hanle.

This observatory will deploy a wave-front sampling telescope array which is presently at an advanced stage of commissioning and the large area MACE (Major Atmospheric Cherenkov Experiment) telescope.

The MACE telescope, which is under production, will use the state-of-the-art technology to configure a 21m diameter tracking light collector with a 1408 pixel-imaging camera at its focal plane.

When operational by 2011, the HiGRO will deploy the world's highest altitude and lowest energy threshold gamma-ray telescopes to unravel the mysteries of the Universe, Koul said. “The ground-based gamma-ray astronomy has come of age with the detection of more than 75 galactic and extragalactic gamma-ray sources during the last few years,” Koul said.

During the last five years, this most recent branch of astronomy has progressed rapidly with the operation of new generation telescopes HESS (High Energy Stereoscopic system), MAGIC (Major Atmospheric Gamma-ray Imaging Cherenkov telescope in Canary Islands) and VERITAS (The Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System, Southern Arizona in US), he said.

The two Indian gamma-ray telescopes presently operating in Mount Abu and Pachmari have also detected a number of flaring episodes from extragalactic sources.

Presently, HESS is located in Namibia, near Gamsberg, an area well known for its excellent optical quality. Due to technical problems, the scheduled commissioning of MAGIC II telescope on September 18 and 19 had been postponed.(PTI)

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