Leh: The first official star party for experienced amateur astronomers was organised by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) in collaboration with Department of Wildlife Protection, UT Ladakh at Hanle Dark Sky Reserve in eastern Ladakh, from October 12-15.
Hanle is home to IIA’s Indian Astronomical Observatory and hosts many professional telescopes due to its dark skies and dry weather. About 30 amateur astronomers travelled to Hanle with their telescopes and cameras to experience the beauty of the skies unaffected by light pollution and to photograph faint celestial objects that cannot be done from other locations.
It was informed that Hanle has one of the darkest skies in India and recently, an area of radius roughly 22 km around Hanle has been notified by the UT Ladakh as the Hanle Dark Sky Reserve (HDSR).
Engineer-in-charge of the Observatory, Dorje Angchuk added that HDSR aims to control man-made light pollution in the area in order to preserve the pristine dark skies for astronomical research. Also, added that the Reserve is promoted as a tourist destination for enjoying the night sky, and also helps in socio-economic development of the local villages.
Award-winning Astrophotographer, Ajay Talwar added that amateur astronomers are always in search of dark skies to be able to observe faint objects and photograph them in great detail.
Further, he added that he has been coming to Hanle for many years now, and certain astronomical phenomena like the False Dawn or the Zodiacal Light, can be observed in the country only from this location due to its darkness.
Furthermore, he said that zodiacal light is the sunlight that is scattered by the dust in the plane of the solar system. It is extremely faint and can only be observed before dawn from the darkest of locations.
The participants of the Star Party could see and photograph this False Dawn on two successive nights.
Local villagers, Tourists, participants from Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Mandi, Ahmedabad, Lakshadweep, and Mumbai participated in the star party.
Sudhash Natarajan from Bangalore Astronomical Society who has been coming to Hanle every year and said as a keen visual observer, he is able to see obscure faint galaxies at HDSR with its Bortle-1 (darkest) sky.
Additionally, Dorjey Angchuk added that Hanle is a haven for amateur astronomers. He said that they are planning to make the HDSR Star Party an annual event. He hopes that it will be one of the most sought after events for astronomy enthusiasts in India and abroad.He further added that HDSR is promoted as a site for astro-tourism.
Head of the outreach section (SCOPE Section) at IIA, Niruj Mohan Ramanujam informed that with funding from UT Ladakh, they have purchased 24 small telescopes and given it to selected villagers inside the reserve and have also trained them as Astronomy Ambassadors.
Kesang Dorjey, from village Khaldo in Hanle added that it was a wonderful opportunity for us to learn from the leading amateur astronomers of the country and become even better-trained guides to the night sky.
Director of IIA, Prof. Annapurni Subramaniam said that they continue to share the unique skies of HDSR with astronomy enthusiasts, and are happy that the local communities are trained to be Astronomy Ambassadors for tourists.
- December 7, 2023