As we drove through Dhanachauli, we realized that we were extremely close to the Devasthal observatory, and decided to take a detour. This observatory, on top of a 2450 m tall peak, houses the largest telescope in India at this time. Visitors have to take an appointment from the Aryabhatta Institute in Naini Tal, a process I’d completely forgotten about. But scientists are usually an accommodating lot, happy to take you by the hand and walk you through the mysteries of the universe. A scientist whom I knew was willing to talk to the local administrator. The administrator was willing to let us in, but apologized that because we had not booked an appointment, there would be no one available to explain to us the working of the telescopes.
We could park at the gate, and walk up to the telescope, and we were not, under any circumstances, to take off our masks. We deposited our ID cards with the security at the gate, and before walking in, I took the photo that you see above. The place houses a 4 m diameter liquid mirror telescope. A container of mercury is spun at a constant speed, so that its reflective surface becomes a paraboloid. The liquid mirror was under construction, and the 3.6 m telescope was under maintenance. This would have been a wonderful opportunity to see these marvelous pieces of technology. If only I’d thought of making an appointment! Still, it was a nice walk through the campus, photographing beetles and laughing thrushes, far above the smoke in the valleys below.
The winter had been very dry, but even so, the observatory in Han Le in Ladakh (altitude 4500 m) would have had better viewing conditions. I would love to visit it once they start building the thirty meter telescope up there.