Rare Red Aurora spotted in Ladakh

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The Hanle and Merak observatories in Ladakh recently captured photographs of a rare red aurora in the night sky.

What is Auroras: 

  • Auroras are patterns of bright lights in the sky that are seen when particles ejected by the sun interact with the magnetic field around the Earth
  • The phenomenon is usually visible closer to the poles.

Aurora Observations at Hanle and Merak:

  • Auroras are typically observed near the poles, but this event was visible in India, closer to the equator. 
  • The Hanle observatory had previously recorded another aurora event on April 23 of the same year. 
  • Auroras are usually not visible in equatorial regions like India, but intense solar activities can occasionally make them visible in such areas
  • Researchers anticipate an increase in aurora events over the next couple of years due to the 11-year solar cycle. We are in the ascending phase of the cycle, with more solar flares expected before reaching the peak in 2025.

Hanle Observatory: 

  • It is Located in the Hanle village in Ladakh.
  •  The altitude and exceptionally clear skies make the Hanle Observatory the perfect place for astronomical observations and stargazing. 
  • Hanle also has a unique Dark Sky Reserve designated by the International Dark-Sky Association. Hanle is notable for being India's only dark sky reserve, a designated area where special measures are taken to reduce artificial light pollution. This makes it an ideal location for observing natural phenomena like auroras. 
  • The Hanle observatory successfully captured the auroral lights toward the northern horizon, but nearby mountains obstructed the view from the Merak observatory.

Merak Observatory: 

  • Merak Observatory is situated on the banks of Pangong Tso, known as the proposed site for the National Large Solar Telescope.

Indian Institute of Astrophysics: 

  • The Indian Institute of Astrophysics is a premier institute devoted to astronomy, astrophysics and related physics research. 
  • It traces its origins back to an observatory set up in 1786 at Madras, which, from 1792, began to function formally at its Nungambakkam premises as the Madras Observatory. 
  • In 1899, the observatory moved to Kodaikanal. In 1971, the Kodaikanal Observatory became an autonomous society, the Indian Institute of Astrophysics. 
  • The headquarters were shifted to Bengaluru into its present campus in Koramangala in 1975. 
  • Currently, funded by the Department of Science and Technology, the Institute ranks as a premier institution devoted to the country's research and education of astronomy and physics. 
  • The Institute's main observation facilities are Kodaikanal, Kavalur, Gauribidanur, and Hanle. The new high-altitude Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO) at Hanle in south-eastern Ladakh has augmented the facilities for nighttime astronomy.
  • Here, a 2-meter Himalayan Chandra Telescope was installed in 2001. A seven-unit High Altitude Gamma Ray (HAGAR) telescope operates at the Hanle site.

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