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Post at: Aug 06 2022

India gets world’s first liquid-mirror telescope

Why in news?

  • In June, 2022 India’s first liquid-mirror telescope became operational. With this India became the first country to have such telescope.
  • The International Liquid-Mirror Telescope (ILMT) has been set up at the Devasthal Observatory campus owned by Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES), Nainital in Uttarakhand.

What is liquid-mirror telescope?

  • Liquid-mirror telescopes are telescopes with mirrors made with a reflective liquid.
  • The most common liquid used is mercury, but other liquids will work as well (for example, low-melting alloys of gallium).

Technology behind liquid-mirror telescope

  • ​Liquid ​mirror ​(LM) ​telescope ​has ​three ​components :
    • A ​dish ​containing ​a ​reflecting ​liquid ​metal ​(essentially ​mercury),
    • An ​air ​bearing ​on which ​the ​LM ​sits, and
    • A ​drive ​system.
  • To ​operate ​the ​air ​bearing ​an ​air ​compressor ​is ​needed.
  • When a bowl of reflective liquid mercury is rotated, the combination of gravity and centrifugal force pushes the liquid into a perfect parabolic shape, exactly like a conventional telescope mirror.

About ILMT

  • It is built by astronomers from India, Belgium and Canada.
  • It is located at 2,450 metres above mean sea level.
  • Its mirror diameter is 4 meter.
  • It’s the only LM telescope to have been developed for astronomy research. Previously built telescopes either tracked satellites or were deployed for military purposes.
  • It is also the only one of its kind to be operational anywhere in the world.
  • The funding, estimated to range between Rs 30 to Rs 40 crore, was jointly provided by Canada and Belgium. The operations and up-keep of this telescope is to be done by India.
  • It will be operational for next five years starting from October 2022.

Difference between conventional and liquid-mirror telescope (LMT)

  • A LMT is a stationary telescope whereas a conventional telescope moves along the direction of the object of interest in the sky.
  • A LMT will survey and capture any and all possible celestial objects such as stars, galaxies, supernovae explosions, asteroids and even space debris. However, a conventional telescope captures just a piece of sky at a given point of time.
  • LMT comprises mirrors with a reflective liquid (ILMT has mercury as reflective liquid). On the other hand, a conventional telescope uses highly-polished glass mirrors.
  • While ILMT will be capturing images of the sky on all nights, conventional telescopes observe specific objects in the sky for fixed hours only.

Significance of LMT

  • It is capable of generating 10-15 GB/night. This enormous data will be helpful for global scientific community.
  • Selected data can be used as a base data for carrying out further focused research using spectrographs, near-Infrared spectrograph mounted on the in-house DOT.

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