Vainu Bappu Observatory, Kavalur, Javadi Hills
The Vainu Bappu Observatory is an astronomical observatory owned and operated by Indian Institute of Astrophysics. It is located at Kavalur in the Javadi Hills, near Vaniyambadi in Vellore district in the Indian state of Tamilnadu. It is 200 km south-west of Chennai & 175 km southeast of Bangalore. Established in the 1970s, VBO hosts the 1m Carl Zeiss Telescope, and the 2.3m Vainu Bappu telescope. This is 11 kms from Jamunamarathur on the border of Vellore District.
This is the biggest observatory in Asia. Astronomy, stargazing and research on the stars are the main activities of this observatory. This is under the control of Government of India for protection and maintenance. Scientists from all over the country and abroad visit this place for observation and research. The biggest telescope that is controlled by computers is one of the main attractions for tourists. Situated in a hundred acre plot, the other guests apart from visitors and locals are deer, snakes and scorpions. This Observatory is owned and operated by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.
The place was selected by Vainu Bapu, an Indian astronomer. This observatory started functioning from 1967. The telescope inside the premises is named as Vainu Bappu Telescope after the famous astronomer. The Kavalur Observatory is another main place in the Jamanamarathur. The Kavalur Observatory is located in a 100 acre forest which having besides a number of medicinal plants with an occasional appearance of some wild animals like deer, snakes and scorpions.
Vainu Bappu Observatory's swansong was the 2.3-metre aperture telescope, designed and built within the country. The gigantic telescope of 93 inch diameter aperture is installed in the observatory. The telescope is tipped as the biggest one in Asian region. Very clear sky in the night is distinctly tailor made situation for Kavalur area. It has thus become an ideal location for watching the celestial bodies. Many astrophysicists throng this facility for deeper study of distant heavenly objects. The observatory has seamlessly blended the nature and the human urge of development and progress.
The Vainu Bappu Observatory of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics traces its origin back to the year 1786 when William Petrie set up his private observatory at his garden house at Egmore, Madras, which eventually came to be known as the Madras Observatory. Later it was moved over to Kodaikanal and functioned there as the Kodaikanal Observatory since 1899.
However, Kodaikanal had very few nights available for observation and hence astronomers searched for a new site after India's independence. M.K. Vainu Bappu who took over as the Director of the Kodaikanal Observatory in 1960, found a sleepy little hamlet called Kavalur in the Javadi Hills as a suitable site for establishing optical telescopes for observing celestial objects. This came to be known as Kavalur Observatory.
Later on, autonomy was obtained and the Head Quarters moved over to Bangalore with the new name as the Indian Institute of Astrophysics. Observations began in 1968 with a 38 cm telescope made in the backyard of the Kodaikanal Observatory.
Kavalur observatory is located in Kavalur in the Javadi Hills in Alangayam, Vellore District. The Kavalur Observatory is located in a 100-acre forest land in Tamil Nadu which is strewn with a variety of greenery of tropical region besides a number of medicinal plants with an occasional appearance of some wildlife like deer, snakes and scorpions. Several varieties of birds have also been spotted in the campus.
The observatory is at an altitude of 725m above mean sea level (longitude 78° 49.6' E; latitude 12° 34.6' N). Apart from being reasonably away from city lights and industrial areas, the location has been chosen in order to be closer to the earth's equator for covering both northern and southern hemispheres with equal ease.
In addition, its longitudinal position is such that it is the only major astronomical facility between Australia and South Africa for observing the southern objects. The Vainu Bappu Observatory is located about 175 km south-east of Bangalore, and about 200 km south-west of Chennai (formerly Madras).
The first telescope was of 38 cm (15 inch) aperture, with which astronomical observations were started in 1968 at Kavalur Observatory. The 75 cm (30 inch) telescope has been completely designed and fabricated at the workshops of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics. In 1972 a 1 metre (40 inch) telescope made by Carl Zeiss Jena was installed at Kavalur.
2.3 Metre Vainu Bappu Telescope
Vainu Bappu’s swansong was the 2.3 metre (93 inch) aperture telescope, designed and built within the country. Bappu died in 1982 and would not see the completion of this telescope.
In a befitting tribute, the then Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi, at a function held at Kavalur on 6 January 1986, named the observatory as Vainu Bappu Observatory and the 2.3 metre telescope as Vainu Bappu Telescope.
The telescope is so powerful that it can easily resolve a 25 paisa coin kept forty kilometres away. Deep sky observations are carried out with this telescope using a variety of focal plane instruments. The equatorially mounted horse-shoe-yoke structure of the telescope is ideally suited for low latitudes and permits easy observation near the north celestial pole.
The telescope has an F/3.25 paraboloid primary of 2.3 m diameter with the prime focus image scale of 27 arc sec /mm and a Cassegrain focus image scale of 6.7 arc sec/mm. This telescope has been operated as a national facility and attracts proposals from all over the country and sometimes from outside India.
The observatory is home to the Vainu Bappu Telescope, the largest telescope in Asia. It has a diameter of 2.3 meters and was first used in 1986. Along with the Vainu Bappu telescope, the observatory has two other telescopes: A 1 meter Zeiss manufactured and another 75 centimeter Cassegrain reflector currently being refurbished. The observatory also has a Fabry–Pérot interferometer.
· Primary Mirror Diameter: 234 cm
· Prime focus: f/3.25 with a scale of 27".1/mm
· Cassegrain focus: f/13 with a scale of 6".8/mm
· Guiding: remote, manual guiding
At PRIME focus:
· Imaging Camera with a 3-element Wynne corrector
At CASSEGRAIN focus:
· Medium resolution Spectroploarimeter
· Medium resolution Optometrics Research Spectrograph (OMRS)
· 1024x1024 pixels TEK CCD, with a pixel size of 24 micrometres
The 1 metre telescope is associated with two unique discoveries in the solar system. In the year 1972, atmosphere was detected around Jupiter's satellite Ganymede and in the year 1977, participated in the observations that confirmed rings were discovered around the planet Uranus. In 1984, Kavalur reported the discovery of a thin outer ring around Saturn.
On 17 February 1988, a new minor planet was discovered using the 45 cm Schmidt telescope. It has been named 4130 Ramanujan after the Indian mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan. This is the first such discovery from India in the 20th century.
Front-line research is being carried out with the help of the optical telescopes at Vainu Bappu Observatory using several focal plane instrumentational facilities. The ongoing programmes include observations of stars, star clusters, novae, supernovae, blazars, galaxies, optical imaging of gamma-ray burst fields, stellar populations, solar system objects and many others.
The telescopes at the observatory had started with relatively modest focal plane instruments and later on graduated to more sophisticated ones. These include cameras for fast photography, photoelectric photometers, a single-channel photoelectric spectrum scanner, a medium resolution spectrograph, a quartz-prism calibration spectrograph, infrared photometer, image tube spectrograph, a Universal Astronomical Grating Spectrograph (UAGS from Zeiss), high-resolution echelle spectrograph and a polarimeter.
Photographic plates were the principal detectors in the early days. Presently the charge-coupled devices (CCD) have replaced the photographic plates. Some micro-processor-controlled photon counting systems were designed and fabricated which have been used in a variety of observational projects. A fibre linked echelle spectrograph is under construction.
On campus maintenance facilities like aluminizing plants for coating the telescope mirrors, mechanical and electrical workshops, electronics labs along with a liquid nitrogen plant are at hand for the smooth functioning of the observatory. Highly advanced technical facilities like SUN workstations are available at the telescopes for handling the CCD data, along with specialised data reduction packages such as IRAF, STSDAS and DAOPHOT. Communication facilities, like e-mail via VSAT satellite connection, are available for all users for the telescopes.
A programme of ultra-flow dispersion spectroscopy was successfully used to survey stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). Of the ten supernovae observed so far, SN1987A in LMC was observed in great detail using the 1 m and the 75 cm telescopes despite its low elevation in the southern sky, proving the worth of the geographic location of Kavalur. In fact the observations of the supernova were started within 48 hours of the discovery.
Observational studies of evolved stars, in particular studies related to their evolutionary aspects, carried out at this observatory, have received critical acclaim and international recognition. The observational facilities at this Observatory have yielded many Ph.D theses for the scholars of the Institute as well as of other institutes and universities in the country.
While the Vainu Bappu Observatory is one of the field stations of the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Astrophysics, which is primarily devoted to research activities using the optical telescopes, the other field stations at Kodaikanal and at Gauribidanur are equipped for solar observations and radio astronomy programmes respectively.
At present one of the challenging projects undertaken by the Institute is the installation of a 2 metre remotely operated optical and infrared telescope at Hanle in the Ladakh region of Himalayas. This will be the highest ground-based telescope in the world. A new field station called Centre for Research and Education in Science and Technology (CREST) is also being set up at Hosakote near Bangalore.
The observatory encourages scientific interactions with the public. Special attention is given to students at various levels. The observatory is open to public on all Saturdays at which time visits to the various telescopes and star watching programmes are organized.
Peninsular India is usually hit by two monsoons in a year - the southwest monsoon starting around the beginning of June, and the northeast monsoon which settles in around the end of October. The peak observing season is January - April or May.
The telescope seeing at the Zeiss 1m telescope is very close to the site seeing and is in the range of ~0".8-2" (FWHM), 1.5" being typical. The dome + mirror seeing at the Vainu Bappu Telescope (VBT) are somewhat worse; the range is ~1"-3" (FWHM), with ~2".5 being the typical value.
The night sky can be seen through the 15cm telescope on every Saturday from 7 PM to 10 PM, if the sky is clear."
Vainu Bappu Observatory
Indian Institute of Astrophysics
Department of Science & Technology
Government of India
Kavalur, Alangayam - 635 701
Vellore District - Tamil Nadu
Phone: +91 4174 - 65222, 65255, 65268
Phone: +91 4174 203119, 203118, 203117
Mobile: +91 9787462052
Fax: +91 4174 – 65255
Email: gsdbabu @ iiap.ernet.in
The nearest airport to VBO is Bangalore, which besides being an international airport, is connected by direct flights to Chennai (formerly Madras), Mumbai (formerly Bombay), New Delhi and Kolkata.
The nearest train stations are Vaniyambadi (29km from VBO) and Jolarpettai (46km from VBO), which have connections from Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai and New Delhi.
The VBO, located near the village of Kavalur, may be reached by road from Bangalore, via Hosur-Krishnagiri-Vaniyambadi-Alangayam-Kavalur.
Other Places of Interest in Javadi Hills:
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