India is likely to begin construction of the world's largest solar telescope on the foothills of the Himalayas in Ladakh to understand the fundamental processes taking place on the Sun by year-end, a senior official said Saturday.
A 2-metre class, state-of-the-art National Large Solar Telescope (NLST), built by Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), will permit Indian scientists to carry out cutting edge research aimed to study Sun's atmosphere.
"A detailed project report has been submitted to the union government and we will be able to begin construction of telescope by end of this year. The project is likely to be completed by 2017," IIA former director Siraj Hasan said while speaking at a session in the Indian Science Congress here.
Hasan said that its innovative design and back-end instruments will enable observations with an unprecedented high spatial resolution that will provide crucial information on the nature of magnetic fields in the solar atmosphere.
The Rs150 crore (around $31 million) project will be one of the few telescopes in the world with a capability to do both day and night time astronomy.
"The solar telescope will help study the microscopic structure of the Sun and derive specific observations that are speculative in nature and not available before," he said.
The solar telescope can study particles, which are spread across 50 km on the Sun.
"A suitable site has been identified at Merak village near Pangong Lake," Hasan pointed out. The village is situated in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir.
Initially, three sites - at Hanle and Leh in the Ladakh region and Devasthal near Nainital, Uttarakhand - were explored to set up the telescope.
The proposed telescope, which will be used to observe the Sun during the day, will need a location with long hours of clear sunshine and clean visible conditions.
"The back-end instrument will be constructed in India while night time instrument will come from Germany," he said.
NLST would be a unique research tool for the country; it will attract several talented solar astronomers to the country and provide a superior platform for performing high quality solar research.
Solar telescopes are special-purpose scientific instruments used to study the Sun. They are among the biggest fixed telescopes and are equipped with an optical flat mirror system to track the sun rays and direct them on to the telescope.
The Sun is the star at the centre of the solar system. Three quarters of the its mass consists of hydrogen and the rest is helium. Less than two percent consists of heavier elements, including oxygen, carbon, neon and iron.
The unique project involves other scientific organisations such as the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational-Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and Inter-University Centre.
The IIA will be the nodal agency.
Though the 10-metre optical telescope at Mauna Kea in Hawaii is the largest, the Indian instrument will be the largest among solar telescopes.
Currently, the world's largest solar telescope is the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope, with a diameter of 1.6 metres in Kitt Peak National Observatory at Arizona in the US.
"The larger the diameter and larger the surface available to absorb sunlight, the more rays can be collected per second, enabling researchers to collect data with greater clarity and obtain accurate results," Hasan noted.
NLST will be the largest solar telescope in the world till 2020 at least till the next generation of 4-m class telescopes come into operation, provided they are realized as planned.