#WhatTheFAQ: India's first liquid-mirror telescope is a feat of astronomical proportions. But why?

The telescope can track space phenomena like supernovae, gravitational lenses, space debris and, of course, asteroids
Pic: Edex Live
Pic: Edex Live

In some ways, astronomy can be considered the science of professional star-gazing. Getting to use telescopes is surely one of the coolest aspects in this line of work. Speaking of which, India has established its first ever liquid-mirror telescope in Uttarakhand. Incidentally, it is also the largest in Asia. While a big deal it certainly is, what does it exactly mean for Indian space science? What can this telescope do that others simply couldn't? We answer all your questions here in #WhatTheFAQ. So read on.

What can the telescope do?
The International Liquid Mirror Telescope (ILMT), as it is named, can track space phenomena like supernovae, gravitational lenses, space debris and, of course, asteroids. It is the world's only operational liquid-mirror telescope while also being the first of its kind to be exclusively designed for astronomical purposes. The telescope will allow to observe several galaxies by being stationary.

How does it work?
The liquid in the telescope is mercury in the form of a thin film to collect and focus light. Scientists used a pool of mercury whose surface is curved into a parabola for focusing light. The light passes through a multiple-lens corrector to produce clear images over a wide field of view. The images are captured using a large-format electronic camera at the focus. The ILMT will function every night for five years and conduct daily imaging. 

Who built the telescope?
Even though the telescope is located in India, it was built with the collaboration of scientists from Belgium, Canada and India. It will be placed at the Devasthal Observatory campus of the Aryabhata Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES) in Nainital. The institute operates under the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.

What are some other functional telescopes at Devasthal?
The ILMT will, in fact, be the third telescope to be in operation from the site. The other two are the 3.6 metre Devasthal Optical Telescope (DOT) and the 1.3 metre Devasthal Fast Optical Telescope (DFOT).

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