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Asia's Largest Liquid Mirror Telescope for Deep Sky Exploration unveiled in Devasthal in Uttarakhand

India has achieved another scientific milestone with the inauguration of Asia’s largest 4-metre International Liquid Mirror Telescope (ILMT) at Devasthal in Uttarakhand. This telescope places India at a different and much higher level of capabilities to study the mysteries of the skies and astronomy, according to Union science & technology and space minister Jitendra Singh. He inaugurated the telescope in the presence of Uttarakhand governor Lt. Gen Gurmeet Singh (Retd).

Picture: Kumaon Jagran
The domes of the ILMT (at right) and the Devasthal Optical Telescope.

The ILMT is located at an altitude of 2,450 metres on the Devasthal Observatory campus of Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES), an autonomous institute under the Science and Technology (DST) department, in Nainital district. It was designed and built by the Advanced Mechanical and Optical Systems (AMOS) Corporation and the Centre Spatial de Lie’ge in Belgium.

The ILMT is the first liquid mirror telescope designed exclusively for astronomical observations and is the largest aperture telescope available in the country at present. It is also the first optical survey telescope in India. The telescope employs a 4-metre-diameter rotating mirror made up of a thin layer of liquid mercury to collect and focus light. The metal mercury is in liquid form at room temperature and at the same time highly reflective, making it ideally suited to form such a mirror.

While scanning the strip of the sky every night, the telescope will generate nearly 10-15 gigabytes of data. The wealth of ILMT generated data will permit the application of big data and artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) algorithms that will be implemented for classifying the objects observed with the ILMT.

The ILMT is primarily the patronage, promotion, and prioritisation from PM Narendra Modi that has enabled and emboldened the scientific fraternity to successfully try new initiatives one after the other in the field of science, technology and innovation, which are being rated as world-class. The Minister said PM Modi has given the motivation to move ahead and also given the freedom to explore hitherto lesser explored areas like space, which has been opened up for private players or India's oceans, whose vast resources are waiting to be unfolded.

The ILMT is designed to survey the strip of the sky passing overhead each night, allowing it to detect transient or variable celestial objects such as supernovae, gravitational lenses, space debris, and asteroids. The data collected from the ILMT, over an operational time of 5 years, will be ideally suited to perform a deep photometric and astrometric variability survey. The 3.6-metre telescope, with the availability of sophisticated back-end instruments, will allow rapid follow-up observations of the newly-detected transient sources.

The ILMT collaboration includes researchers from ARIES in India, the University of Lie`ge and the Royal Observatory of Belgium, Poznan Observatory in Poland, the Ulugh Beg Astronomical Institute of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences and National University of Uzbekistan in Uzbekistan, the University of British Columbia, Laval University, the University of Montreal, the University of Toronto, York University and the University of Victoria in Canada.

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