Northern Binaries: Alcor & Mizar

One of the permanent residents of the northern skies from Delhi is the Big Dipper more formall known as Ursa Major. Little do people realize that Ursa Major is a tresure trove of spectacular deep sky objects like the Whirlpool galaxy (M51), the Pinwheel (M101), Cigar Galazy (M81) etc and a double gem, the Alcor-Mizar combination.

Alcor and Mizar are a set of four stars, Alcor, Sidus Ludoviciana and the binary star Mizar A & B. Their names in Arabic mean ‘Horse'(mizar) and ‘rider'(Al-cor) The pair are a easy to find nake eye double star that forms one of the tail stars of Ursa Major. Both stars are separated by just 12’. Mizar and Alcor are the only double star with each member having its own proper name. They are both a member of the Ursa Major Moving Cluster (Collinder 285), but it is unknown if they are a couple that is gravitationally bound.

Due to the very location of Delhi, Ursa Major is a permanent resident of the Northern sky and is visible throughout the year.

Amateur Astronomers also use the double to field test their optics. If you cannot resolve Mizar A & B then you know you need to junk your scope. Mizar’s double stars are about 14 arcseconds across.

Image Coutresy: Ian Morison

Chandrayaan Launch in October

Chandrayaan finally ready and awaiting launch Source: AFP

It’s finally here. Chandrayaan is slated to be Launched on October 22nd 2008 aboard a PSLV-XL rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Andhra Pradesh. The launch window opens from Oct 19th to Oct 28th. ISRO Mission Director M Annadurai’s only concern was the weather.

Earlier the spacecraft integration was finally completed and was subject to the Thermal-Vacuum test also dubbed as the “shake and bake” test, in which the craft is exposed to space like temperatures, pressures and mechanical vibrations.

Chandrayaan in the Thermal Vacuum test chamber

Chandrayaan is designed to orbit the moon for 2 years. It will take eight days to reach lunar orbit, at an altitude of 100 km. The craft also carries with it a lunar impactor amongst other instruments that will take pictures and chemical measurements of the lunar soil as it hits thr surface.

LHC shut down for two months!

The LHC may be shut down for two months because of an incident on Friday(09/19/08) which resulted in a large Helium leak into the tunnel.The European Organization for Nuclear Research said that the cause may be a faulty electrical connection between two magnets.

The full report on this can be found at :-

Large Hadron Collider: Big Bang on Oct 20-21

MOSCOW, Aug 5 (RIA Novosti) – The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, will be officially unveiled on October 21, a Russian scientist said Tuesday. “The collider is to be inaugurated on October 21,” said Alexander Vodopyanov, of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (Dubna). “This means at least one test-run of proton beams around the accelerator ring will be conducted prior to inauguration.”

LHC is a particle accelerator that will smash together opposing beams of protons to explore the validity and limitations of current “Standard Model of particle physics”.

The scientist said all eight sections of the collider’s large ring had been cooled to temperatures approaching absolute zero.

Earlier on Aug 10, CERN was able to steer a proton beam around the 27 km accelerator ring. This event was webcast on CERN’s website

Public Talk: Astronomy at High Altitudes

You are invited to a public talk by

Tushar Prabhu
Professor, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore
Indian Astronomical Observatory, Hanle
At 5 pm, Sept 7th 2008 Nehru Planetarium, New Delhi

Be at the Nehru Planetarium, New Delhi, at 5 PM, on the 7th of September, to hear about the exciting astronomy that happens from the highest altitude observatory for Optical and Infra Red Astronomy, in the world.

Where is Hanle?

At, Digpa-ratsa Ri, Hanle, at Changtang Ladakh, at the border of Himachal Pradesh and Tibet, in the Himalayas. This is officially known as the Indian Astronomical Observatory and is situated on Mount Saraswati, the highest peak in this region.

Why was this location chosen, to build an observatory?

Traditionally, we have the Indian ascetics going to the Himalayas, looking for peace and quiet. Well, so do Astronomers look for a haven of peace that would be free of clouds, atmospheric disturbances caused by aerosols, pollen and dust as well as well away from light pollution induced by human habitation. It is precisely such a haven that is provided at these high altitudes, in the Himalayas.

In monsoon ridden India, there are rain shadow regions in Ladakh, where the Monsoon winds are effectively stopped. The thin air at such elevations is yet another factor that is very good for Astronomy, giving much better viewing conditions than at sea level.

Enthusiastic amateur astronomers Raghu Kalra, Ajay Talwar, Vikrant Narang and Pankaj trekked on their own, all the way to this highest altitude observatory in the world, in June 2007 and came back mesmerized by the romancing of the skies that had become possible for them, at these altitudes. But, they also conclude – what is good for Astronomy, is bad for the human body. The thin atmosphere which is so good for viewing celestial objects in the sky, is what makes this region so difficult for the body to adjust.

But, yes, it is good for astronomy, this inhospitable nature of the region where this observatory is located, which has made possible many exciting observations related to Supernovae and optical afterglows of Gamma Ray Bursts.

The 2 meter Himalayan Chandra Telescope of this observatory, is operated through remote control, from a centre of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, located at the town of Hosakote, near Bangalore.

Many are unaware of the fact that this exciting observatory, at the highest altitude location for any observatory in the world, is right here in India. Be there at the Planetarium, to get to know what it is like doing astronomy at such high altitudes and the exciting celestial science emerging from these observations!