Indian Astronomical Observatory | Where the stars must not twinkle


Vainu Bappu Observatory, run by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bengaluru, is among India’s foremost astronomical observatories. It was chosen in the 1960s because it was an impressive 750 metres above sea level, located amid a forest and offered fairly unobstructed vistas of the night sky.

Ideal criteria for astronomical observatory:

  • Rainclouds absorb starlight and radiation from cosmic objects, preventing them from being caught on the telescopes of cameras. So such a place should be least affected by the monsoon.
  • To be able to detect stars or traces of cosmic phenomena, such as supernovae or nebulae from light years away, astronomers must be able to catch the faintest slivers of their radiation that often lie outside the range of visible light.
  • Such radiation is, however, easily absorbed by water vapour and so it helps to have a telescope high above ground where the atmosphere is drier. Hanle, Ladakh is one such place.

Hanle and Dark Sky Reserve:

  • It opens out into the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary, sheltering Changthangi sheep, the source of pashmina wool. Situated at 14,000 ft above sea level Hanle village is now a spot for astro-tourism.
  • In a first-of-its-kind initiative, the Department of Science & Technology (DST) has announced the setting up of India’s first Dark Sky Reserve in Hanle. A Dark Sky Reserve is a designation given to a place that has policies in place to ensure that a tract of land or region has minimal artificial light interference.
  • Hanle is regarded as one of the world’s most optimal sites for astronomical observations. However, ensuring that the site remains well-suited for astronomy implies keeping the night-sky pristine, or ensuring minimal interference to the telescopes from artificial light sources such as electric lights and vehicular lights from the ground.
  • The Himalayan Chandra Telescope (HCT), High Energy Gamma Ray telescope (HAGAR), the Major Atmospheric Cherenkov Experiment Telescope (MACE) and GROWTH-India are prominent telescopes located at the Hanle observatory.
The International Dark Sky Association is a U.S.-based non-profit that designates places as International Dark Sky Places, Parks, Sanctuaries and Reserves, depending on the criteria they meet. Several such reserves exists around the world but none so far in India.
  • In June, a three-way Memorandum of Understanding was signed among the Union Territory administration, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Leh, and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bengaluru, which uses and maintains the telescopes, for launching the Dark Space Reserve.
  • To promote astro-tourism, villages around Hanle will be encouraged to promote homestays equipped with telescopes that visitors can use to view the night sky. Villagers and residents will also be trained to help visitors with astronomical observations.
  • In the days ahead, a visitor centre would also be set up to inform people not only about astronomy but also the wildlife and plant life in the adjoining Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary.

GROWTH-India telescope :

  • GROWTH-India telescope is part of the Global Relay of Observatories Watching Transients Happen (GROWTH).
  • Its goals are threefold:
  1. Search for explosions in the optical regime whenever LIGO group detects a Binary Neutron Star merger
  2. study nearby young supernova explosions.
  3. Study nearby asteroids.
  • Transient phenomena such as supernovae are important parts of time-domain astronomy which is a less-explored frontier in astronomy. Such an explosion is when the inner material of the star is thrown out. There is no other way we can actually see what is inside a star.
  • The 0.7 m GROWTH-India telescope at the Indian Astronomical Observatory located in Hanle, Ladakh, recently made its first science observation which is a follow-up study of a nova explosion.
  • Novae are explosive events involving violent eruptions on the surface of white dwarf stars, leading to temporary increase in brightness of the star. Unlike a supernova, the star does not go on to die but returns to its earlier state after the explosion.

First science observation:

  • The GROWTH-India telescope was commissioned six months ago soon after which it saw first light, on the night of June 12. The celestial object was first noticed by a different group which saw the nova explosion.
  • This recurrent nova, named M31N-2008, has been observed to erupt several times, the most recent eruption happening in November 2018. Recurrent nova systems are interesting because they are candidates for progenitors of Type Ia supernovae.


Indian space and astronomical research should be complemented with astro-tourism, the revenue generated from which can in part fuel astronomical research in a positive feedback loop.

 All about the winners of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize


The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize has been jointly awarded to Belarusian human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski, the Russian human rights organisation Memorial, and the Ukrainian human rights organisation Centre for Civil Liberties. The award was announced by the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo recently.

“The Peace Prize laureates have, for many years, promoted the right to criticise power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens. They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power. Together they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in a press release.

The winners:

Ales Bialiatski

  • Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski is the founder of Viasna, a human rights centre in the country. Mr. Bialiatski created Viasna in 1996 when a wave of democratic opposition took over Belarus.
  • President Alexander Lukashenko, who took over the country in 1994, gradually became increasingly autocratic. His rule has been described as “Europe’s last dictatorship”. In 1996, locals protested against Mr. Lukashenko’s rule in large numbers, and the uprising was popularly called the Minsk Spring.
  • The protests were triggered by a constitutional referendum on amendments to the 1994 Constitution of Belarus. The referendum was called following a dispute between President Lukashenka and the elected parliament, the Thirteenth Supreme Council, over the president’s proposal to amend the constitution to extend his term of office from five to seven years, create a second legislative chamber whose members would be appointed by the president, and limit the power of the Constitutional Court.
  • In 2004, Viasna became a member of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
FIDH is a non-governmental federation for human rights organizations. Founded in 1922, FIDH is the third oldest international human rights organisation worldwide after Anti-Slavery International and Save the Children. FIDH fights for Freedom, Justice, Democracy and denounces human rights violations
  • Mr. Bialiatski is a champion of human rights in Belarus and has dedicated his life to the cause of democracy in his country. The dissent has, however, come at the cost of personal liberty. The activist was arrested in July 2021, following the large-scale anti-government protests in the country that started in 2020. He has, since, been detained without trial.
  • Mr. Bialiatski was also awarded the Right Livelihood Award, nicknamed the alternative Nobel Prize, in 2020.
Right Livelihood Award is an international award to “honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today.”The prize was established in 1980 by German-Swedish philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull, and is presented annually in early December.


  • Memorial is a Russian human rights organisation started in 1987 in the erstwhile Soviet Union. Andrei Sakharov, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, and Svetlana Gannushkina, a human rights advocate, were among its early organisers.
  • The organisation was started as a movement to expose repression under the regime. Eventually, it expanded into civil society groups that ran a museum, a library, an archive, and support centres to help Soviet-era repression victims and their family members. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Memorial also focused on the compilation of information on political repression and human rights violations in Russia.
  • Memorial’s databases reportedly contain details of more than three million victims as well as thousands of perpetrators who worked for the Soviet Union and the victims of the Chechen War. It has published the names of political prisoners kept in jail by Russian President Putin’s administration.

Centre for Civil Liberties

  • Ukrainian human rights organisation Centre for Civil Liberties was founded in Kyiv in 2007 with the goal of transforming the country into a full democracy.
  • In 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, the Centre for Civil Liberties participated in mobile monitoring groups in Crimea as well as Donbas. The organisation is presently focused on identifying and documenting Russian war crimes following the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.


Nobel peace prize is increasingly being awarded in the field of human rights protection, which has become the last line of defence in a world of rising conflict, war and dictatorship.


No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *