Kodaikanal Solar Observatory

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Tags : Museum

Timings : 1st April - 15th June: 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM
Rest of the year: 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM (Open only on Fridays)

Time Required : 2-3 hrs

Entry Fee : No entry fee

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Kodaikanal Solar Observatory, Kodaikanal Overview

Located at the southern tip of the beautiful Palani Hills, the Kodaikanal Solar Observatory was established in 1899 and is owned and operated by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics. Its longitudinal position makes it a unique site for the study of solar behaviour. The scientific abode also houses the most extensive collection of solar data, dating way back to the 19th century. Its unique geography makes the spot particularly ideal for accurate cosmic observations (especially related to the sun).

Currently, their full-time team consists of two scientists and nineteen technicians, with equipment such as the high frequency Doppler (for measuring a wave motion phenomenon known as the Doppler Effect), a broadband seismograph (an instrument used to detect seismic waves emerging from the Earth), a Watson magnetometer, and the solar tunnel telescope among many others.

In January 1909, an important solar phenomenon known as the Evershed effect was first discovered from the data collected at this observatory. The pioneer behind this discovery - John Evershed - thus propelled the status of the Kodaikanal Solar Observatory as a premier solar physics lab in the country. Such was the comprehensiveness of his study in the motion of sunspots that there was little added to the topic for at least a century.

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Structure and Equipments at Kodaikanal Solar Observatory

One of the observatory's greatest possessions is the library, which holds archives of astronomical literature, mostly centred on the topics of solar and solar-terrestrial physics. This collection is of historical importance around the world for solar data and observations, which is why it is often referred to and cited in research papers.

Another interesting feature of the observatory is the 20 cm refractor, which is used to survey comets and occultation activities, i.e. when an object is hidden from the view of an observer, as another object blocks the line of sight. This artefact may be made available to the general public for star gazing at night, subject to approval from appropriate authorities.

Its state-of-the-art meeting and accommodation facilities are frequently used for conducting international meetings and workshops. The observatory also consists of an astronomy museum, which mainly contains pictorials of significant astronomical or solar events. A couple of models, a live solar image and the Fraunhofer spectrum (the sun’s visible colourful rays) complement the scientific vibe of the observatory. 

Things To Do at Kodaikanal Solar Observatory

The Solar Observatory is an off-the-beaten-path place of interest about 4 km from Kodaikanal, and a must-visit for astronomy geeks and space enthusiasts. Students are welcome to explore the subject of astronomy and understand its implications through interaction with the equipment kept in the museum. Telescopes, a real-time display that projects sunspots on a screen, and another that shows the refraction of light into seven colours of the rainbow are particularly intriguing artefacts. It also makes for a leisurely family outing in the green countryside of Southern India.

Tips For Visiting Kodaikanal Solar Observatory

1. Ensure that the observatory is available for visiting before heading out as it is open to the public at specific timings only. It may be best to visit between 10:00 to 12:00 in the morning when the skies are clear, and the sun is visible.
2. Cameras are not allowed inside the premises, so you may have to make arrangements to keep the camera outside.

History of Kodaikanal Solar Observatory

It all started when the East India Company decided to promote the subjects of Astronomy, Geography and navigation in India, back in 1792. Initially located in Madras, the primary purpose of the establishment of the observatory was to install instruments and equipment at a tactical position that allowed for the observation of stars, the moon, and eclipses of Jupiter's satellites, along with being a reference site for the preliminary measurement of earth's longitudinal lines. The observatory set the ground for the British to start conducting scientific studies in India.

As time passed, the head scientist at the observatory, Norman Robert Pogson, appealed to install a high-powered, 20-inch telescope to improve the quality of observations. The implementation of this idea required a relocation of the observatory, at a place which was preferably dust-free (offering a clear view of the skies), and enables the capture of steady images during both day and night. After an extensive search across the Indian subcontinent, the spot in Palani hills, just off the town of Kodaikanal was finalised as the perfect location for the new observatory.

By 1895, a speedy transfer of work and equipment was underway from the Madras Observatory to the Solar Physics Observatory (as it was initially known). The Kodaikanal Solar Observatory was officially founded on April 1, 1899. Charles Michie Smith, who selected the site, was appointed as its first Director and remained so for the next 12 years.  The initial observations commenced in 1901.

How To Reach Kodaikanal Solar Observatory

The observatory is located approximately 4 km from the beautiful town of Kodaikanal. Madurai Airport is the nearest airport at a distance of 66 km. There are also regular buses and trains available to reach Kodaikanal.

From the town, one can hire a taxi or access local transport to reach the observatory. All vehicles must be parked at the main entrance, and there is a kilometre's walk to the main site. It is at a distance of 4.9 km (10 mins) from the Kodai Lake and 6.9 km (13 mins) from the Green Valley View.

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