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The 40-inch telescope’s many stellar discoveries were highlighted over its 50 years of operation.

Last updated on July 27th, 2023 at 06:27 pm

At the celebration of its 50 years of operation on 15-16 December, several stellar discoveries of the 40-inch telescope at the Vainu Bappu Observatory in Kavalur, Tamil Nadu were highlighted.

Professor Vainu Bappu’s telescope has made significant contributions to astronomy, such as the discovery of rings around Uranus, a new satellite of Uranus, and an atmosphere around Ganymede, a satellite of Jupiter.

Other important research conducted with this telescope includes the discovery and study of many ‘Be stars’, the depletion of lithium in giant stars, the optical variability in Blazars, the dynamics of the prominent supernova SN 1987A, and so on.

The telescope at the IIA observatory, which is part of the Department of Science and Technology, remains relevant due to the backend instruments that engineers and astronomers have built over the past 50 years to keep the telescope competitive.

The observatory has constantly upgraded its ability, starting from the Cassegrain photometer and Echelle spectrograph in 1976, the new grating spectrograph in 1978, the fast-chopping polarimeter in 1988 with its exchange in 2016, and the latest NIR photometer in 2021.

“This telescope stands as a testament to the technological changes in the astronomical watch, from photographic plates to modern CCDs,” said Prof. Annapurni Subramaniam, Director IIA. 

After an extensive search, Professor Vainu Bappu chose Kavalur as the site for a high-quality optical observatory to conduct research in modern astronomy in the 1960s.

The excellent skies above Kavalur, due to its southern location, would allow it to see most of the northern and southern skies. After the observatory started operation a few years later, Prof.

Bappu placed an order for a 40-inch telescope with Carl Zeiss of Jena (then East Germany), which was eventually installed in 1972.

Soon after it was installed in 1972, the telescope, whose mirror has a diameter of 40 inches (or 102 cm), started producing important astronomical discoveries. This telescope has trained more than a generation of astronomers. In the 1980s, the expertise gained by the engineers also enabled IIA to build the fully indigenous 90-inch (2.34 meter) telescope.

IIA organized a 1-day meeting at its Bengaluru campus on 15 December to celebrate the golden jubilee of this extraordinary telescope, followed by a function at Kavalur on the 16th.

The Director IIA felicitated many of the retired IIA astronomers, engineers, and telescope assistants at the event. As well as talks about important scientific discoveries from the 40-inch, there were personal reminiscences by the staff from that time.

At this event, the 7th issue of “DOOT”, an astronomy magazine published by the students of IIA, was also released.

A competition was held for students in primary schools in villages around Kavalur to paint a 40-inch telescope. During the function, the winners were presented with prizes on the 16th at the observatory.

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