Indian expert at Oxford leads major astro project | india | Hindustan Times
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Indian expert at Oxford leads major astro project

Niranjan Thatte, an alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, and an expert in astronomical instrumentation at the University of Oxford, is leading a major project to build the HARMONI spectograph for European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

india Updated: Sep 24, 2015 01:03 IST
Niranjan Thatte
Niranjan Thatte(HT Photo)

Niranjan Thatte, an alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, and an expert in astronomical instrumentation at the University of Oxford, is leading a major project to build the HARMONI spectograph for European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

As part of a contract signed on Monday by the European Southern Observatory, the HARMONI project will provide £14.2 million of hardware and will provide the world’s largest visible and infrared telescope with unprecedented insights into objects in the universe.

A university release said that perched on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, the E-ELT will have a giant main mirror 39 metres in diameter.

The telescope will enable scientists to peer further into the history of the Universe, studying distant, young galaxies in great detail with better sensitivity than ever before, helping improve an understanding of the Universe, the effects of dark matter and energy, and planets outside the solar system.

The release said that when first used in 2024, the E-ELT will be equipped with three scientific instruments. One of these will be HARMONI, a spectrograph which splits the light from the object in the sky into its component wavelengths or colours.

Thatte said: “HARMONI has been designed to be a workhorse instrument. It will be utilised by all the early science being carried out at the E-ELT. That’s why we designed it to be easy to calibrate and operate, providing the E-ELT with a ‘point and shoot’ spectroscopic capability.”

HARMONI uses a technique called Integral Field Spectroscopy to simultaneously obtain spectra over the entire field-of-view of the instrument. It will slice the light entering the E-ELT into 152 separate slitlets, each of which will have its spectrum analysed for 214 points along its length.

The result is a 214 x 152 grid of spectra, each containing 4,096 data points about the wavelength content of the signal at every spatial point. It will be a versatile instrument, providing a range of scales, resolving powers and wavelength ranges — for instance, providing high resolution for bright objects and high sensitivity for dim, distant objects.