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Xavier’s eye to look at sky

Stargazers ahoy! St. Xavier’s College has a new star in its midst, a CGE Pro 1400 HD Celestron telescope which is one of the best in the world.

The best-in-class telescope is part of the premier Calcutta institution’s endeavour to become a science research hub.

It inaugurated a re-commissioned astronomy observatory and a solar observatory on Monday.

The 20th-century St. Xavier’s College Observatory has been overhauled and renamed Father Lafont Observatory and modernised with modern equipment, including the Celestron telescope.

The astronomy observatory, which has an advanced hemispherical rotating motorised dome, will be used for night observations.

The dome is 24ft in diameter, making it the largest in the country, and rotates on both sides at the touch of a couple of buttons. It has a slit opening that increases the telescope’s field of view.

A smaller solar observatory with an electrically-operated retractable sliding roof will be used for daytime observations.

This unit has an experiment hall and an adjoining computer lab where data will be analysed and archived.

“We are grateful to the department of science and technology and the Fund for Improvement of Science and Technology (FIST) that enabled us to re-commission the observatory. We have decided to name it after Father Eugene Lafont, a pioneer of modern science in India and who set up the observatory in 1865,” said Father Felix Raj, the principal of the college.

The old observatory, which had been instrumental in predicting the killer cyclone of 1867, has been defunct for almost 120 years. Though efforts were made to revive it a few years ago, these never took off.

“When we took on the project we knew we would have to overhaul the old structure while retaining its heritage,” said Shailen Aggrahari, the managing director of Astro Creations and Impex, a Bangalore-based company hired for the project.

Shailen’s team took 10 months and Rs 1crore to complete the project.

The observatories will be mainly used for photometry of nearby stars, measuring lunar topography, transit of planets and solar observations.

“We would like to use it for observation on variable stars, asteroids and comets, astronomy project for BSc and MSc students as well as for exchange programmes with other colleges and observatories,” Felix Raj said. The observatory could be opened for the public on Sundays.