A gamma ray telescope at Hanle: A note

A gamma ray telescope is set to come up at Hanle, Ladakh, in 2015 and start operations in 2016. Hanle was one of the sites proposed to install a part of the Cherenkov Telescope Array, too. A survey conducted in the 1980s and 90s threw up Hanle as a suitable site to host telescopes because “it had very clear and dark skies almost throughout the year, and a large number of photometric and spectroscopic nights,” according to Dr. Pratik Majumdar of the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Kolkata.

The Cherenkov Telescope Array will comprise networked arrays of telescopes in the northern and southern hemispheres to study and locate sources of up to 100-TeV gamma rays. Dr. Subir Sarkar at Oxford University had told me at the time that “the CTA southern observatory will be able to study the center of the galaxy, while the northern observatory [of which the Hanle telescope will be a part] will focus on extra-galactic sources.” Another Cherenkov telescope, called HAGAR, has been in operation at Hanle since 2008, according to Dr. Majumdar.

Artist's conception of the CTA once installed at one of its sites.
Artist’s conception of the CTA once installed at one of its sites. Image: Pratik Majumdar/SINP

Although Hanle was in the running around July 2013, its name was lifted from the list by April 2014. Dr Sarkar had written to me earlier,

“I realize it is interesting to mention to your readers that Hanle, Ladakh is a proposed site. However I should tell you that this is very unlikely – not because the site is unsuitable (in fact it is excellent from the scientific point of view) but because the Indian Govt. does not permit foreign nationals to visit there. I know a French postdoc who was at TIFR for several years and is now working with Pratik Majumdar at SINP … even he has been unable to get clearance to go to Hanle! I do think India needs to be more proactive about opening up to people from abroad, especially in science and technology, in order to benefit from international collaboration. Unfortunately this is not happening!”

This is ‘closedness’ showed up in another place recently: at the INO, Theni.

Dr. Majumdar added,

Almost all the research institutes and installations in India need to pull up their socks particularly in case of dealing with such bureaucratic procedures [of letting foreign scientists move around inside the country]. We do need to change this inhibitive attitude. BARC is another case where bringing in foreigners for work/visits is quite a big hassle and that is not just for foreigners, even any Indian national is not allowed to take laptops/CDs/other electronic items inside BARC without special permissions. This is unthinkable to me in today’s age. So, even though it does not sound very bad always, there are various layers of inhibition where at various levels this has to be fought.

He added that HAGAR operated with similar restrictions. In fact, in 2018, another gamma-ray observatory is set to be installed in Hanle by TIFR and BARC. So we have local scientific institutions asking for more international participation and eager to deliver results, and on the other hand annoying bureaucratic restrictions on those who decide to participate.