1.3m Telescope at Devasthal

Projects >> 1.3m Robotic Telescope
Observing Feedback
Observing Log

The new 130-cm Optical Telescope at Devasthal-Nainital

Manufacturer : DFM Engineering Inc. USA,


Ram Sagar, Amitesh Omar, Brijesh Kumar, Maheswar Gopinathan, Shashi B. Pandey, Tarun Bangia, Jay S. Pant, Vishal Shukla, and Shobhit Yadava

Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES), Manora Peak, Nainital-263 129, Uttarakhand


A modern Ritchey-Chretien Cassegrain 130-cm diameter optical telescope has been successfully installed at Devasthal, Nainital in the central Himalayan region.  This location was chosen after carrying out extensive site surveys.  The first images obtained with the telescope indicate that atmospheric seeing and sky darkness at Devasthal are nearly at values as those measured during the site survey.  The values of seeing and sky darkness are comparable to some of the best astronomical sites in the world. The 130-cm telescope is functional and observations can be carried out  from the control centre at Devasthal or from the Manora Peak in Nainital.  This telescope has started providing valuable data for a number of research projects and is expected to help to meet part of the national requirement in optical observational astronomy from small aperture ground based telescopes

Keywords: Astronomical sites, optical telescopes, Devasthal

THE Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (acronym: ARIES), an autonomous research institute under the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, has successfully installed a 130-cm optical telescope at Devasthal, Nainital in the central Himalayan region. The institute so far had only 104-cm telescope installed in 1972 as the main observational facility. This new telescope will meet part of the optical observational requirements from the astronomers in the institute and in the country.  The telescope is equipped with low noise and fast modern Charge-Coupled Devices (CCD) detectors and high transmission filters. Although the aperture of this telescope is small in the present international context, the darkness and sub-arcsec seeing available at the Devasthal site, and being equipped with extremely sensitive detectors makes it a versatile equipment for carrying out valuable astronomical research.  The relevance of such small aperture telescopes in the present era is well documented in the literature1,2 in terms of scientific output against per unit capita of investment. The site also has an added advantage of being in the zone of a crucial geographical location on the globe for a number of time-critical observations of cosmic events. There are only a few modern optical observing facilities between Australia in the East and Canary islands in the West spanning nearly 180 degree in longitude. This telescope is expected to serve the needs of optical identifications and follow up observations of many new sources to be discovered with the upcoming X-ray/UV space telescope ASTROSAT and already operational radio telescope GMRT. A brief description of the site, the telescope and its capabilities along with the first images obtained are presented in this paper.


 Devasthal site


Devasthal (meaning "Abode of God") is a mountain peak near Nainital (60 km away) at a longitude of 79.7 E, latitude of 29.4 N,  and at an altitude of  ~2450 m above msl. The geographical location is shown in Figure 1. The site is away from major urban settlements in the region. Its line-of-sight distance from the Manora Peak at Nainital is nearly 22 km. This site was chosen after an extensive site characterization conducted during 1980 - 2001 in the central Himalayan range. The details of the site characterization are published in the literature3,4,5. The main advantages of Devasthal site are in its dark skies, sub-arcsec seeing, low extinction and at the same time being easily assessable and manageable. The 'seeing' is a measure of atmospheric blurring caused by turbulence in the air. The seeing affects sharpness of the celestial images  and is of paramount importance for locating a site for optical astronomy. Such characteristics of an astronomical site for locating modern optical telescopes can not be ignored in order to get maximum research output with minimal expenditure in running an observatory.


The infrastructure development has been carried out extensively at Devasthal site. The nearest village Kulauri-Jadapani, 3 km away from the Devasthal peak, provides a state road connectivity from Nainital and other major places in the region. The institute has built a 4-m wide road up to the peak from the state road. There is an 18 Mbps microwave link providing data connectivity between Manora Peak and Devasthal.  A 3-phase dedicated feeder of 11 KV high-tension power transmission line has been provided to Devasthal by Uttarakhand Power Corporation Limited. The requirement of water is currently met by a deep bore-well and through rainwater recharging pits. There is sufficient place in guest house at the site to accommodate visitors.


The 130 cm Optical Telescope


The main objective for setting up of a 130 cm optical telescope at Devasthal was to meet the observational requirements for

the institute's scientific programs, which were so far being carried out using nearly 40 year old 104-cm Sampurnanand telestcope. The duty cycle of  observations with the 104-cm telescope has limited capabilities due to its manual operation. This old system also does not provide a testbed for carrying out developmental activities for emerging observing techniques such as robotic and software based operation, improving image quality through fast imaging or adaptive optics. The institute's main scientific programs such as monitoring of transients (Gamma Ray Bursts; GRB, Supernovae explosions), variability of stars in the Milky-way and of active nucleus in external galaxies require an automated telescope for efficient observations6. Other programs such as imaging of star clusters require wide field imaging capabilities. Keeping in mind the current and future observational and technical developmental requirements, a wide-field 130-cm telescope was proposed in 2005. The installed 130-cm telescope at Devasthal is able to fulfill most of the these requirements. 


The telescope has been fabricated by DFM Engineering Inc. USA. The telescope uses a modified Ritchey-Chretien Cassegrain design which means it has three optical components, namely, primary mirror, secondary mirror, and a corrector or field flattener. The focal length to diameter ratio (focal-ratio) of the overall optics was kept at 4 making it a very fast system providing 40 arcsec view of the sky in 1 mm scale at the focal plane. A single element corrector provides a nearly flat field view of the sky up to 66 arcmin in diameter. The mirrors are made of Corning's Ultra Low Expansion (ULE) glass/ceramic material. The mirrors are polished to optical wavelength accuracies and coated with Aluminum to obtain high reflectivity at visible wavelengths.


A picture of the telescope after the installation at Devasthal  is shown in Figure 2. The tube of the 130-cm telescope is of open truss allowing the telescope to cool faster in the ambient. The telescope mount is of fork-equatorial type which requires only one axis of rotation while tracking celestial sources. The mechanical structure of the telescope is made up of Steel and Aluminum. There is also a provision through Invar rods and bi-metallic materials for automatic compensation of focus variation brought from expansion or contraction of optical tube due to changes in the ambient temperature. The focus can be adjusted using a five-axis (tip, tilt, and 3-axis translation) controller on the secondary mirror. The telescope uses friction drives to control motions in right ascension and declination axes. The friction drives provide smooth and accurate pointing without any backlash. The encoders to register the position of the drives are absolute in 25-bit. The telescope can be pointed to a celestial object with an accuracy of 10 arcsec rms. The mechanical system provides a tracking accuracy at nearly 0.5 arcsec rms over 10-min without any external guider.


The telescope is controlled using dedicated softwares. The telescope control system is capable of operating the telescope automatically. The system can also be interfaced with the standard sky-viewing softwares such as TheSky, eliminating the need of any finding chart. The system maintains an accurate time standard using the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. There is also an onsite weather monitoring system to keep a watch on the outside weather. The telescope is housed in an open roll-of-roof type structure again to help the telescope to cool faster in the ambient. The roof is designed and constructed by the institute.


Three CCD cameras are currently available with the telescope for obtaining images of the celestial sky. The cameras are  (1) 2048x2048 pixels, 13.5 micron pixel size conventional back-illuminated, deep thermoelectrically cooled (-800 C) CCD, (2) 512x512 pixels, 16 micron pixel size electron multiplying frame transfer back-illuminated, deep thermoelectrically cooled (-900 C) CCD, (3) 3326x2504 pixels, 5.4 micron, front illuminated, thermoelectrically cooled (-300 C) conventional CCD. The first two cameras use high quantum efficiency E2V chip, assembled by ANDOR with low read noise electronics. The third camera is from SBIG using Kodak chip. More details of the telescope system and cameras are provided elsewhere7.


The telescope was inaugurated by Dr. T. Ramasami, Secretary, Department of Science & Technology, Govt. of India on December 19, 2010. The images obtained with the telescope show best FWHM at nearly 1 arcsec. The atmospheric extinction at Devasthal is measured as 0.24 mag in B (Blue), 0.14 mag in V (Visual), and 0.08 mag in R (Red) band on the first week of December, 2010. The extinction can vary significantly from one night to another over the seasons. The sky brightness is measured as 21.2 mag/arcsec2 in the V band in moonless night. The sky brightness varies with the phase of the moon. These values are comparable to those of other major national and international optical observing sites. The telescope is equipped with a motorized filter changer, design and developed at the institute. Currently, broad-band (BVRI), (u,g,r,i,z) and narrowband interference filters for O[III], S[II], and H-alpha line observations are available. The telescope is currently being used for photometric observations of star clusters, galaxies, and monitoring extrasolar planets, transients such as GRB and supernovae.


Some of the first light images are shown in Figures 3-6. The image in Figure 3 is a broad band BVR color composite image of the famous Orion star forming region, also known as Mrigshirsha Nakshtra. The picture in Figure 4 is of M67 open star cluster in white light. Figure 5 shows image of the galaxy NGC598 in BVR broad band colors. Figure 6 brings out ionized gas seen in H-alpha (red color) in a starburst galaxy M82.  The typical exposure time in these images was 5 minutes in each color for broad-bands and 15 minutes for the H-alpha band.


Future Developments


Devasthal is an emerging observatory for optical astronomy in the country. Several new facilities are upcoming at the site in the next 2-3 years. The new facilities include a 360-cm, the largest in the country, optical telescope to be installed in year 2012. The 360-cm telescope will have several new technologies being built in collaboration the Belgium8. It will complement the observing capabilities of the 130-cm telescope as 360-cm telescope will be mainly used for spectroscopic observations. Thus the optical telescopes installed at Devasthal will increase the observing capabilities of Indian astronomical community by manifold in near future.



We are greatly thankful to D. Bhattacharya, A. Pati, S. Chandrasekhar, S. K. Ghosh, and P. Sreekumar, the members of the project management board for their constant encouragement. We acknowledge the support from  the Chairman, ARIES governing council, DST secretary and his office for ensuring that the project runs smoothly. We thank the staff of ARIES for providing constant support with enthusiasm in all the phases of the project.


1.     Gopal-Krishna and Brave, S., 1998, Bull. Astron. Soc. India, 26, 417-424

2.     Sagar, R., Curr. Sci., 2000, 78, 1076-1081.

3.     Pant, P., Stalin, C. S., Sagar, R., 1999, Astron. Astrophys. Suppl., 136, 19-25.

4.     Sagar, R., Stalin, C. S., Pandey, A. K. et al., Astron. Astrophys. Suppl.,2000, 144, 349-362.

5.     Stalin, C. S., Sagar, R., Pant, P., et al. 2001, Bull. Aston. Soc. India, 29, 39-52.

6.     Sagar, R. (2006) Bull. Astron. Soc. India, 34, 37-64

7.     Omar, A. et al. (2011), In preparation.

8.     Sagar, R., Kumar, B., Omar, A. & Pandey, A.K. (2010), Bull. Astron. Soc. India. Vol. 40; Page 203-210.




Received ??; revised accepted ??

     Fig  1:         Geographical location of Devasthal in Uttarakhand map (courtesy: ISRO).

Fig  2:   A view of the 130-cm optical telescope installed at Devasthal. The fork structure is painted yellow and
               the optical tube structure is painted white (outer) and black  (inner).

Fig  3: The broadband BVR color composite image of
            the Orion nebula taken from the 130-cm telescope.

Fig  5: The BVR color composite image of the central portion of
              the galaxy NGC598 imaged with the 130-cm telescope

Fig  4: The central portion of M67 star cluster in white light imaged
              with the 130-cm telescope.


Fig  6: The picture of the starburst galaxy M82 showing ionized
               gas in H-alpha  (red color)  taken from the 130-cm