The telescope will help in surveying the sky, making it possible to observe several galaxies and other astronomical sources just by staring at the strip of sky that passes overhead.
The telescope, built by astronomers from India, Belgium and Canada, is located at an altitude of 2450 metres at the Devasthal Observatory campus of Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES), an autonomous institute under the Department of Science and Technology (DST), in Nainital district, Uttarakhand.
“I am hopeful that this project will attract and motivate several young minds from scientific and engineering backgrounds to take up challenging problems,” said Dipankar Banerjee, director, ARIES, referring to new facilities at Devasthal Observatory that now hosts two four-meter class telescopes – the International Liquid-Mirror Telescope (ILMT) and the Devasthal Optical Telescope (DOT).
Both are the largest aperture telescopes available in the country. The 3.6 metre DOT, with the availability of sophisticated back-end instruments, will allow rapid follow-up observations of the newly-detected transient sources with the adjacent ILMT. Application of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) algorithms will also be implemented for classifying the objects observed with the ILMT.
“When regular science operations begin later this year, the ILMT will produce about 10 GB of data every night, which will be quickly analyzed to reveal variable and transient stellar sources,” said Brajesh Kumar, ILMT Project Scientist at ARIES.
“The wealth of data generated with the ILMT survey will be exemplary. In the future, several young researchers will be working on different science programmes utilise the ILMT data,” said Kuntal Misra, who is the Project Investigator of ILMT at ARIES.
Besides researchers from ARIES in India, the ILMT collaboration includes scientists from the University of Liège and the Royal Observatory of Belgium in 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.
“The telescope was designed and built by the Advanced Mechanical and Optical Systems (AMOS) Corporation and the Centre Spatial de Liège in Belgium,” said the ministry of science & technology in a statement, issued on Thursday.
The novel instrument employs a 4-meter-diameter rotating mirror made up of a thin film of liquid mercury to collect and focus light.
“The scientists from the three countries (India, Belgium and Canada) spun a pool of mercury which is a reflective liquid, so that the surface curved into a parabolic shape which is ideal for focusing light. A thin transparent film of mylar protects the mercury from wind. The reflected light passes through a sophisticated multi-lens optical corrector that produces sharp images over a wide field of view. A large-format electronic camera located at the focus records the images,” said the ministry.