Indian industries are now keen on partnering in mega projects like Square Kilometre Array (SKA), Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) among a host of others, says Prof Yashwant Gupta, director, TIFR-National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA). Excerpts from an interview with Anjali Marar:
Recently, you led an international team of scientists in designing the Telescope Manager (TM) for SKA. How do you see the growing role of Indians in astronomy?
This is a new and exciting phase of growth for the Indian Astronomy. It is providing excellent opportunities for Indians to play lead roles, like that of the Indian team that worked on the TM for the SKA. In some specific areas, Indian astronomers have attained good expertise. In the years to come, I see similar roles being played by them more frequently. Moreover, the partner countries of SKA want India to take up major tasks of developing high-end software.
What will the proposed SKA data centre — to come up in India — be like?
Setting up a SKA data centre in the country will be crucial for Indian astronomers to realise their goals of carrying out cutting edge scientic research with the SKA observatory. There will be an easy access to data sets that interest us and we will also be able to develop specialised pipelines for the analysis of these data. Initially, the data centre will cater to the needs of the upgraded Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (uGMRT). Later, in the advanced stage, the centre will operate as a full-fledged SKA data centre, which we expect to get operational by around 2024. We are looking to collaborate with the Indian software industry for the development and operation of the SKA India data centre.
Can you share the status of uGMRT? How will the upgraded facility benefit the research community at large?
I am happy to say that the upgrade is almost complete… We are planning to have an official inauguration by March 2019. However, since 2016, uGMRT has been operational in a phased manner and the first wave of new results and discoveries is flowing since then. After GMRT’s operations for 15 years, the uGMRT has brought in improved capabilities, providing almost seamless frequency coverage from about 100 MHz to about 1,500 MHz. The instantaneous bandwidth of 400 MHz is more than ten times larger than the earlier bandwidth of 32 MHz. The uGMRT is a much more sensitive radio telescope, enabling observation of much fainter sources located deeper into the universe. This will better our understandings and help probe different phases of evolution of the universe.
ISRO has partnered with private players. Do you see similar opportunities for Indian astronomy?
Astronomers in India have increasingly started to partner with the industry as part of the endeavour to develop next generation technologies for new observatory projects. For instance, NCRA collaborated with private companies for the design of the TM for SKA. There is a great potential for development of similar synergies with private players in the years to come…
What kind of government support do you need to achieve your goals?
…Besides increasing the financial outlay for science in the country, what would further help is a more proactive approach… having more faith and trust in the scientific community, encouraging international cooperation. With better coordination of work across the various disciplines, we can maximise the benefits to the nation and society.