Ladakh to get India’s 1st ‘Night Sky Sanctuary’, to promote Astro Tourism in the Union Territory

India’s 1st ‘Dark Sky Reserve’: The Union Territory of Ladakh will get India’s 1st ‘Dark Sky Reserve’ also known as Night Sky Sanctuary, which will be set up in the cold desert regions of the Union Territory. Dr Jitendra Singh, Minister of State (Independent charge) for Science and Technology made the announcement formally on Saturday - 3rd Sept 2022.

Ladakh to get India’s 1st ‘Night Sky Sanctuary’, to promote Astro Tourism in the Union Territory
Ladakh to get India’s 1st ‘Night Sky Sanctuary’, to promote Astro Tourism in the Union Territory

India’s 1st ‘Dark Sky Reserve’: The Union Territory of Ladakh will get India’s 1st ‘Dark Sky Reserve’ which will be set up in the cold desert regions of the Union Territory. Dr Jitendra Singh, Minister of State (Independent charge) for Science and Technology made the announcement formally on Saturday - 3rd Sept 2022. As per the announcement, the ‘Dark Sky Reserve’ will be set up and ready by December 2022 and will be used primarily to promote and boost Astro-Tourism in the UT.

As per the release, the Dark Sky Reserve will be developed within a period of three months at Ladakh's Hanle as part of the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary. The Sanctuary will be Department of Science and Technology and Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bangalore. The announcement about setting up of India’s 1st Night Sky Sanctuary comes following a meeting between Science & Technology minister Dr. Jitendra Singh and Lt. Governor Ladakh RK Mathur. Following the meeting, a tripartite MoU was also signed between Union Territory Administration, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Leh, and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) for launching the Dark Space Reserve.

What is a Dark Sky Reserve?

A Dark Sky Reserve, which is also known as a Night Sky Sanctuary, is a place which is developed specially with a distinguished nocturnal environment and starry nights. The Sanctuary is also developed responsibility to limit the light pollution that may degrade the experience of Astro-Tourism. The definition of a Dark Sky Reserve as provided by the International Dark Sky Association (IDSA) website says that such a sanctuary should consist of a core area meeting that meets basic criteria for sky quality and natural darkness. Along with this, the reserve should also have a peripheral area, which can support dark sky preservation in the core.

India’s 1st Dark Sky Reserve

Henley in Ladakh will be home to India’s 1st Dark Sky Reserve. The facility is being developed as a bid to boost AstroTourism in the region and attract foreign researchers to work with high-altitude telescopes in the region.  Ladakh Based Dark Sky Reserve will also be one the world’s highest-located sites for optical, infrared, and gamma-ray telescopes, as per the statement issued by Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO).

Ladakh’s Henley has been chosen as the site for the development of Dark Sky Reserve because its cold desert located about 3,000 metres above sea level and is surrounded by mountains. The adverse climatic conditions including long harsh winters in which temperatures can drop to minus 40 degrees, make the place inhabitable, thereby limiting light pollution and an ideal site for the sanctuary. Limited vegetation, sparse population and high elevation, further makes it an ideal candidate for Dark Sky Reserve project. As part of the development of the Night Sky Reserve, IIA has already launched a pilot project which included setting up of 10 small and easy-to-handle telescopes and light-reflecting shields. The locals have been trained to use these telescopes for basic stargazing. 

Promoting Astro Tourism in Ladakh

One of the key objectives of the Night Sky Sanctuary is to promote Astro Tourism in the region. As part of the project, IIA plans on setting up advanced telescopes for stargazing. The project objectives also include setting up a team of scientists and experts who can identify and train locals to use telescopes for the purpose of basic night sky gazing. As part of their training, the experts will help them identify constellations, and locating the pole star, among others. This will create an alternative source of income which will be based in Astro Tourism.

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