February 13, 2020 — HRH Princess Sirindhorn, whose exceptionally keen interest in astronomy is well known for decades, has literally gone out of her way during the official visit to the Republic of India to see stars in the infrared at the Devasthal Observatory in Uttarakhand.
Situated in the Himalayan foothill, the Devasthal Observatory harbors 3.6-meter Devasthal Optical Telescope (DOT), the largest optical telescope in India. The site is 2424 meters above the sea level, far above any light pollutions, and high above any aerosol and dust, affording excellent astronomical observing conditions even far beyond the visible wavelength. The name of the site, Devasthal, means "Abode of God", as the summit is the site of pilgrimage of the locals to worship Lord Shiva, whose temple adorns the summit for many centuries of yore.
The journey to Devasthal involves an hour of flight from New Delhi to Pantnagar, the nearest airport, followed by a 4-hour car ride through the sharp curves and hairpin turns of the narrow Himalayan roads. After a long journey, HRH arrived at Devasthal at 17:50, in time for sunset and ready to start observing. She was welcomed by NARIT's Executive Director, Saran Poshyachinda, Chair of the NARIT Executive Board, Peeradet Tongumpai, former Director Boonrucksar Soonthornthum, along with the Directors of the Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES) and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA).
While the ARIES host introduces HRH to the infrared instrument on the 3.6-meter telescope, she expressed interest in observing the Great Orion Nebula in the infrared, noting that she has taken images of the nebula with the Thai National Observatory previously. Indeed, this target is particularly noteworthy for demonstrating the infrared capability of the 3.6-meter telescope, for images in the visible light only show a few newly formed stars in this massive star-forming region, but the infrared band can peer through the thick nebulous dust and reveal hundreds of young stars.
While there, HRH also visited the Liquid Mirror Telescope — a 4-meter technology demonstrator that spins liquid mercury at a constant speed into a parabolic mirror. The telescope is expected to start a sky-survey in the upcoming months. If successful, this technology could play an important role in the making of next-generation giant telescopes.
The representatives of the NARIT, AFRIES, and IIA had the opportunity to report the ongoing effort to strengthen the Indo-Thai cooperation in astronomy, advanced technologies, space payload, which are the core mission of the NARIT, as well as to broaden the cooperative network to other Asian nations.