India’s first Dark Sky Reserve to soon come up in Ladakh

A part of Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary at Hanle in Ladakh is all set to become India’s first Dark Sky Reserve. The site will also promote astronomy-tourism, giving a boost to local tourism through science.

Being a cold desert region, Ladakh holds great potential for undertaking uninterrupted astronomical observations.

At a height of 4,500 metres, Hanle is already home to optical, gamma ray and infrared telescopes at the Indian Astronomical Observatory complex operated by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bengaluru. These telescopes are in use for studying stars, galaxies, exoplanets and the evolution of our universe.

Hanle is pristine for the dry weather for most months of the year, remains cloudless during nights and offers dark skies – making it a perfect natural setup for sky gazing.

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On Thursday, a tripartite agreement was signed between officials of IIA, the Ladakh Union Territory administration and the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council. The signing ceremony was held in the presence of R K Mathur, Lieutenant General, Ladakh, Dr Annapurni Subramaniam, director, IIA, and Jamyang Namgyal, MP, Ladakh.

Once declared as the Hanle Dark Sky Reserve (HDSR), the administration, local council members along with the scientists will collectively work towards preservation of the night sky from unwanted light pollution and illumination – a serious threat to scientific observations and natural sky conditions and a growing menace, world over.

The HDSR will be an area spanning 22 km in radius centred around the Hanle observatory. Upon the declaration as HDSR, both locals and tourists will have to adhere to regulations that will be imposed on the outdoor lighting, use of high beam vehicle headlights, light shields and curtains, among other measures to cut down light pollution.

The HDSR plans to involve the Ladakhi community in promoting astro-tourism activities by engaging mainly with the student community. Telescopes will be distributed in nearby villages and students will be trained in using them. The HDSR officials additionally plan to offer training on identification of local flora and fauna unique to Ladakh. Day tours to the Hanle observatory visitor centre are among the other proposed plans to increase the community-tourist-scientist interactions at Hanle.

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