In Ladakh, astronomy ambassadors are trained to offer a tour of the night sky

News Excerpt:

Since October 2022, 24 astronomy ambassadors have been guiding visitors to Hanle, India's first dark-sky reserve, in gazing at stars, planets, and other celestial bodies.

More detail about news

  • In October 2022, 24 ambassadors from Hanle, including 18 women, were handpicked as astronomy ambassadors and trained in basic astronomy to boost India’s first-ever astronomy tourism promotion in Ladakh. 
    • Each of the ambassadors has been equipped with an 8-inch telescope. 
  • Astronomy tourism is a joint initiative by the Ladakh union territory administration and Bengaluru-based Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA).
  • In the week-long training course, the astronomy ambassadors were first shown celestial objects on a screen and also introduced to telescopes, including lens types, and how to operate and change lenses to adjust and focus.
    • First, they use the 10mm lens to locate the (celestial) object. Later, they use the 5mm lens to focus and for detailed observations, like the craters on the moon.
  • Thereafter, they were taught how to view celestial objects in the field. Since celestial objects are best identified by the shape, position, brightness and direction in the sky on the day of observation, astronomy ambassadors mostly use the North Star and Capella — two of the known brightest stars — as a reference.

What is a Dark Sky Reserve?

  • It is public or private land with a distinguished nocturnal environment and starry nights that has been developed responsibly to prevent light pollution.
    • With metros, cities and peripheral areas experiencing light pollution, there are very few areas that offer a view of clear skies on cloudless nights.
  • The initiative comes close on the heels of a 22-km radius around Hanle being declared as India’s — also South-East Asia’s — first Dark Sky Reserve in September 2022. 
    • According to the International Dark Sky Association (earlier International Dark Sky Association), a United States-based non profit that works to preserve the night sky, Dark Sky Reserve is land that is legally protected for scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment purposes.
  • Designating an area as a Dark Sky Reserve or a Dark Sky Park — Maharashtra’s Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR) was recently declared India’s first Dark Sky Park — is driven by the need to shield the night sky. 
    • Since a Dark Sky Reserve, which typically surrounds a park or observatory, limits light pollution, similar restrictions came into effect after the Hanle Dark Sky Reserve (HDSR) was notified in December 2022.

About Hanle Dark Sky Reserve (HDSR)

  • HDSR ensures that the development of astronomy tourism infrastructure and activities do not disrupt the habitat of indigenous flora and fauna. 
    • It spans six hamlets in Hanle — Bhok, Khuldo, Shado, Punguk, Naga and the Tibetan Refugee habitations located within the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuarywith a total population of around 2,000.
  • Hanle, which offers one of the most pristine, breathtaking and darkest night skies in the country, is no stranger to stars and galaxies. 
  • The IIA has been operating the Himalayan Chandra Telescope, a 2-metre optical-infrared telescope named after Indian-American Nobel laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, at its Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO) here since 2001. 
    • Operating from atop Mount Saraswati, at an altitude of 4,500 metres above mean sea level, the observatory has helped kindle an interest in astronomy among the local youth.

Components of HDSR

  • According to the director, IIA, one of the key components of HDSR’s ongoing efforts is the educational outreach.
    • Collaborating with local schools and universities.
    • The project aims to inspire the next generation of astronomers.
    • Conservationists and eco-conscious tourists. 
    • Through workshops, stargazing events and interactive sessions with astronomers, students and visitors gain hands-on experience, thereby fostering a deeper appreciation for the cosmos and the importance of preserving dark skies.

What land is considered suitable?

  • As per the International Dark Sky Association (IDSA), a piece of land can receive the Dark Sky Reserve tag only if:
    • It is either publicly or privately owned.
    • It is accessible to the public partially or entirely during the year.
    • It is legally protected for scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment purposes.
    • Its core area provides an exceptional dark sky resource relative to the communities and cities that surround it.
    • The land offers prescribed night sky brightness either for reserve, park or sanctuary.

Why was Ladakh chosen and will this help boost tourism there?

  • Ladakh is a unique cold desert located about 3000 metres above sea level with high mountainous terrains. 
  • The union territory's aridity, limited vegetation, high elevation and large areas with sparse populations make it the perfect setting for long-term astronomical observatories and dark sky places.
  • Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of homestays in Hanle has increased to 30 from 4.
  • The best time to sky gaze in Hanle is between mid-April and October.

How are locals helping and gaining from astronomy tourism?

  • Locals were roped in to help after the HDSR declaration to reduce light pollution. 
    • This included all vehicle users dimming their headlights upon entering HDSR, requesting local homes to use soft lights, and supplying homes in Hanle with thick window screens and curtains.
  • Ladakh has gained from HDSR, with astronomy tourism providing the local youths with means of livelihood in the union territory itself.


Hence, India's first dark-sky reserve in Ladakh will help the astronauts in research of celestial bodies and to boost India’s first-ever astronomy tourism promotion in Ladakh.

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