India is getting ready to set up a special facility that is expected to give a major boost to the international efforts to unravel the mysteries surrounding the nature of normal and dark matter in the universe.
The Bangalore based Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) along with Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and several other national institutions, is setting up a telescope with 21-meter diameter collector here which will collect the gamma rays in the space. The analysis of the gamma rays will help astro-physicist in better understanding of different types of matter in the universe.
“The gamma rays are high energy processes in the universe. Their study will help us in understanding the high energy physics close to black holes, compact objects, dark matter and high gravitational fields,” said Dr Tushar P Prabhu, Professor-in-Charge, IIA's astronomical observatory at Hanle.
Known as the Major Atmospheric Cerenkov Experiment (MACE) facility, the Observatory here will be the only such facility in the eastern hemisphere, and at an altitude of 4,300 m above the mean sea level.
Hanle is considered one of the most suitable sites for such astronomical researches in the country due to its location -- high altitude and dry weather. It has an annual precipitation of less than seven cm and thus offer a large window for observations. On an average, observations can be made for 260 days in any year.
The facility is next to IIA's Himalayan Chandra Telescope (HCT), which was set up about a decade ago.The HCT became functional in 2001 and is operated from Bangalore through a satellite-based communication link. This telescope has already helped in discovering three galaxies with super-massive black-holes, and nature of several supernovae, and several new variable stars in our galaxy, among other things.
The effort to establish MACE facility is being led by Mumbai based Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC), in collaboration with Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) Mumbai, and Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics (SINP), Kolkata besides IIA.It is estimated to cost about Rs. 40 crore and is expected to be ready in 18 months, by December 2012.
The technical feasibility of the high altitude for atmospheric Cerenkov detectors was proved by IIA and TIFR by setting up a smaller facility, High Altitude Gamma Ray (HAGAR) experiment in 2008.