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Astrophotographer Dorje Angchuk becomes first Indian honorary member of International Astronomical Union

Picture Comet Neowise by Dorje Angchuk which won the nationwide contest by the Astronomical Society of India

Through his passion for astrophotography, a Ladakh-based engineer has brought laurels not only for his region but also India, as he becomes the only Indian Honorary Member of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and also the first Indian to bag this position.

Meet Dorje Angchuk of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), who along with 10 others from all over the world, will become a part of the select 20 international experts in IAU. The honour bestowed on Angchuk recognises those individuals who have significantly contributed to the progress of astronomical research and culture in their country.

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IAU honoured him in recognition for “his passionate promotion of astronomy in the Ladakh region, through his excellent astrophotography”.

The Himalayan Chandra Telescope and the GROWTH Telescope in Hanle framed against the Milky Way and the planets Jupiter and Saturn (Pic by Dorje Angchuk)

IIA is an autonomous institute of the Government of India’s Department of Science & Technology and Angchuk is the Engineer in charge of its Indian Astronomical Observatory in Hanle, Ladakh. His involvement goes beyond this.

Talking about his passion he said: “Stemming from my childhood interest in astronomy, sparked by looking at Saturn through a telescope, and later, seeing the Comet Hale Bopp, I developed a strong passion for astrophotography.”

Dorje Angchuk

Angchuk’s astro-photographs have inspired innumerable students and people as these aesthetically combine beauty of the dark skies with the stunning landscape of Ladakh. For example, his images of the telescopes at Hanle foregrounded against the Milky Way have become famous across the country. His pictures highlighting the telescopes in Hanle have intrigued school and college students.

The works by Angchuk have been published in the New Yorker magazine, Association of Asia Pacific Physical Societies, and many newspapers in India. His Comet Neowise picture won the nationwide contest by the Astronomical Society of India as well.

An exposure of the Himalayan Chandra Telescope over 2.5 minutes, with the dome slit being rotated, to give view of the interior (Pic by Dorje Angchuk)

What makes Ladakh special for astronomy is that it is probably the only location in India that still has access to dark skies. Dark skies, recognised as a part of humanity’s heritage, are necessary to help preserve the night skies for future generations. Angchuk has been in the forefront of the campaign for safeguarding the pristine dark skies of Hanle and its surroundings in ways that are in symbiosis with local development, including the promotion of astro-tourism.

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IAU is the foremost international association of professional astronomers, is over 100 years old. It is recognized as an authority for assigning names to stars, planets, asteroids, etc.