New Delhi: Indian equipment and technology could play a stellar role in Nobel-worthy astrophysics discoveries in the next decade. A massive, proposed telescope at Hawaii is likely to see contributions worth around Rs800 crore from India, the highest yet by the country in this area, a sign of its rising assertiveness in international high-technology experiments. By comparison, India’s input for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), based out of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, was just about Rs125 crore.
India’s participation in the Hawaii telescope will significantly consist of high-technology components that will be used in the experiment, said a senior Indian official.
Last July, India said it would join the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project, an international, $1.2 billion (Rs5,880 crore) initiative to build the world’s largest telescope in Hawaii, if the US and Canadian project planners used some India-made components.
Space eye: A view of the Thirty Meter Telescope complex. Photo: TMT Observatory Corp.
“We are now partnering the project”, after having joined it last year as an observer, said T. Ramasami, secretary, department of science and technology (DST). “This upgrade will involve around Rs800 crore worth of technology as contribution from the Indian side.”
The partnership will help Indian equipment manufacturers and give the country’s scientists access to the telescope being built atop Mauna Kea, one of the world’s tallest mountains, he said.
The telescope’s 30m aperture allows it to focus more sharply than smaller telescopes by using the diffraction of light. The large aperture also collects more light than smaller telescopes, allowing images of fainter objects.
Among other things, the telescope is expected to give unprecedented insight into the nature of dark matter and energy, believed to be the propellants of the universe’s accelerating expansion. Discoveries related to this earned Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Reiss this year’s Nobel Prize for physics.
The TMT initiative involves the University of California, California Institute of Technology, Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and India’s DST.
India and China were inevitable partners, Michael Bolte, one of the directors of the TMT consortium, said in an email.
“The scientific communities in China and India have grown significantly and are at the leading edge in a number of different fields,” he said. “The technical capabilities of companies and scientific institutions are similarly world-class.”
India’s decision to negotiate for the use of its hardware is seen by analysts as its ability to actively contribute to high-end science projects. It is able to seek better terms, at least partly, as a consequence of deep cuts in science budgets by the US, Europe and Japan, which have been the traditional funders and hosts of mega science experiments, owing to economic uncertainty.
Currently, India is also in discussions with Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to join another astronomy endeavour known as the Square Kilometre Array, a proposed assemblage of radio telescopes that will be the most sensitive radio instrument ever in human history.
“Not only is this a sign of India’s growing stature in astronomy and major physics experiments, but also because there are several talented Indian astronomers out of India who have made significant contributions to the field,” said Thanu Padmanabhan, an astrophysicist at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune. “The budgets as well as the sheer amount of data that is generated by these experiments can’t be handled by single countries alone. Better to have five (scientists) than two.”
During construction, India was able to incorporate locally designed components in the $9 billion LHC project at CERN.
“I understand that key fabrication activities, especially stands that propped (up) the colliders, were developed out of India. That’s a dramatic change from India’s initial participation in experiments. It was usually individual scientists, and not India, that took part in these experiments,” said V.S. Ramamurthy, director of National Institute of Advanced Studies and former DST secretary.
Scientists from the University of Rajasthan, who were part of the Indian delegation to CERN, designed a detector for ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment), one of the four major experimental set-ups at LHC that was designed to simulate the state of the universe moments after the Big Bang.