Mumbai, December 18
In a thrilling astronomical development, the world's largest "eye on the universe" -- an optical, infra-red, 30-metre telescope (TMT) -- is fast coming up with critical help from Indian scientists, engineers and industries at its proposed location in Maunakea in US' Hawaii.
The TMT will be the most gigantic scope ever to be constructed by the world at a cost of over $2.6 billion, with collaboration of India, the US, Japan, Canada and China, said Prasanna Deshmukh, 35, one of the scientists engaged in the mega-project.
Hailing from Maharashtra's Sangli, Deshmukh is the work package manager for TMT's primary mirror control system, and handling the crucial actuators and edge sensors for the telescope.
The TMT's Indian collaborators are: the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bengaluru, and the Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES), Nainital.
Deshmukh said, "The TMT will enable us to peek from one light year (in our solar system) to the early Universe, or around 13.7 billion light years away. Consider - The nearest neighbour of our Milky Way Galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy is some 25.3 lakh light years away. So imagine the power and reach of the TMT."
Presently, the two biggest telescopes - both space-based - are the Hubble Space Telescope (diameter 2.5 m, 1990, 535 km above Earth) and the latest James Webb Space Telescope (diameter 6.5 m, 2021, to be around 15 lakh km far from Earth, orbiting the Sun), considerably smaller compared with the upcoming ground-based TMT which will be five times bigger with a diameter of 30 m.
Through the TMT, scientists will get a better view of planets, stars, galaxies, exo-planets, nebulas, supernovas or pulsars, in unthinkable far-off regions of the seemingly endless Universe, conduct spectroscopy of such heavy objects to study their atmosphere, find out if life exists or can thrive there, scout possibility of a future "cool address" for earthlings, and test out the current varied hypotheses on the reality of aliens somewhere, out there.
With the current generation scopes working in optical, ultraviolet or infrared wavelengths, it's not possible to view many things due to their limited size and resolution, but the TMT will open up hitherto unknown avenues to understanding the secrets and mysterious spectacles of the vast Universe, the true dimensions of which still elude man, said Deshmukh.
Explaining the TMT, Deshmukh said the primary mirror will comprise 492 hexagon mirrors supported by another 1,476 actuators, 2,772 high-precision edge sensors, and 10,332 smaller actuators that will align all the mirrors, detect the micro-minutest deviations and correct them to enable get clear images from staggering distances in the Universe.
"All the mirrors and other components are made of highly specialised 'zero thermal expansion glass’ to prevent blurred images owing to temperature fluctuations. The telescope will be supported by an 'Extreme Adaptive Optics' system to reduce disturbances caused by the Earth's atmosphere, as it tracks different celestial objects," said Deshmukh.
Besides IUCAA, IIA and ARIES, some 50-plus Indian industries are contributing to the mega venture through different components and the direct or indirect involvement of around 200 scientists, engineers, experts, technicians, and others.
As per current plans, the TMT will "open its eye" to ogle at the Universe by 2032 - the deadline extended from the original 2028. IANS
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