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The 0.7 m GROWTH-India telescope at the Indian Astronomical Observatory located in Hanle, Ladakh, has made its first science observation which is a follow-up study of a nova explosion.

GROWTH-India Telescope

  • The GROWTH-India telescope was commissioned six months ago soon after which it saw first light, on the night of June 12.
  • It is part of a multi-country collaborative initiative – known as the Global Relay of Observatories Watching Transients Happen (GROWTH) – to observe transient events in the universe.
  • The fully robotic telescope is designed to capture cosmic events occurring over relatively shorter periods of the cosmological timescale: years, days and even hours.
  • Universities and research institutes from the US, the UK, Japan, India, Germany, Taiwan and Israel are part of the initiative.
  • Their primary research objective is time-domain astronomy, which entails the study of explosive transients and variable sources (of light and other radiation) in the universe.

Functioning

  • The telescope is potentially fully robotic and can operate on its own, but the way these readings were taken has only partly used its potential for automation.
  • The group sitting in IIT Bombay worked through Bengaluru’s IIAP to control the telescope.
  • While the IITB-IIAP link was through regular internet connection, the one from IIAP to the telescope in Ladakh was through a satellite link.
  • A typical professional telescope has a field of about 1 square degrees. This telescope has a field that is five to six times larger.
  • It can ‘slew’ or move its focus from one part of the sky to another in just about 10-15 seconds and its camera can view stellar objects that are thousands to millions of light years away.

Threefold goals

The GROWTH-India telescope is part of the Global Relay of Observatories Watching Transients Happen. Its goals are threefold:

  • Search for explosions in the optical regime whenever LIGO group detects a Binary Neutron Star merger
  • Study nearby young supernova explosions
  • Study nearby

Nova Observation

The telescope has been taking readings since then, and this is the first ‘follow-up’ work. The celestial object was first noticed by a different group which saw the nova explosion. Though a small step in astronomy but it is a big leap, because it is the first scientific result obtained by this telescope.

Details of the Nova

  • Novae are explosive events involving violent eruptions on the surface of white dwarf stars, leading to temporary increase in brightness of the star.
  • Unlike a supernova, the star does not go on to die but returns to its earlier state after the explosion.
  • This recurrent nova, named M31N-2008, has been observed to erupt several times, the most recent eruption happening in November 2018.
  • Transient phenomena such as supernovae are important parts of time-domain astronomy which is a less-explored frontier in astronomy.
  • Such an explosion is when the inner material of the star is thrown out. There is no other way we can actually see what is inside a star.

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