India's largest optical telescope is likely to be located in the Himalaya at a height of 4,000 metres by the turn of the century. The Union government has cleared Rs 1.5 crore of the Rs 50 crore project -- for design studies to be done by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bangalore. "The study will be completed in 18 months," says IIA director Ramanath Cowsik.
The observatory -- a joint effort of various academic institutions and universities -- will facilitate research in ultraviolet, infrared and optical wavelengths and will complement a radio telescope being built near Pune by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.
Astrophysicists have not yet identified the site for the telescope. "However," says Cowsik, "satellite data, seismic data and security studies indicate the region between northeastern Himachal Pradesh and southern Ladakh would be ideal." The IIA's optics laboratory has the infrastructure to fabricate the mirrors of the telescope, claims Cowsik. "It will be a challenging job for us," he says. "We can also look forward for a variety of spin-offs."
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