Images of Venus and Jupiter. Source: Nasa
New Delhi, July 23: Phew! Science has saved a Roman god and a goddess from possible Armageddon launched from the Earth by the mighty Indian Army, egged on by TV studio patriots always keeping a gimlet eye open for Chinese intruders.
The Indian Army mistook Jupiter and Venus as unidentified flying intruders making nocturnal sorties from China into the skies above eastern Ladakh for over six months until astronomers brought their fears to ground, it has been disclosed.
Requested by the army, the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore, deputed two astronomers to Ladakh earlier this year to resolve the mystery of the two objects that the army had been observing in the sensitive border zone since August 2012.
Sources told The Telegraph that army personnel had until February 2013 documented 329 sightings of the unidentified objects seen over Thakung near Pangong Tso, a high-altitude lake shared by India and Tibet.
The objects were perceived to have violated the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that India shares with China 155 times.
The astronomers were told that the first object, viewed from a location about 4,715 metres above sea level near Thakung, appeared in the horizon at about 6pm and remained visible until about 5am. The second object appeared at 4am and faded away at 11am.
The sightings emerged amid what defence analysts say are simmering concerns within the Indian Army about cross-border transgressions and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by the Chinese to look into Indian territory.
“Our task was to determine whether these unidentified objects were celestial or terrestrial,” Tushar Prabhu, a senior astronomer and a member of the IIAP team, said.
The IIAP operates the world’s highest telescope at Hanle, Ladakh, about 150km south of the location where the sightings were reported.
Army lance naik Sheminderpal Singh — a regular observer at Point 4715 — told the astronomers that he had noticed a delay of four minutes in the appearance of one of the objects each consecutive day. Singh also told them that the object seemed to be the brightest light in the sky and always appeared to move with respect to the stars.
The IIAP team told the Indian Army to use an instrument called a theodolite to record the horizontal angle and vertical elevation of the two objects. Army personnel performed these observations between February 17 and 22 and submitted the data to the IIAP.
The astronomers have concluded that the object observed from Point 4715 is Jupiter as the observations coincide with the planet’s diurnal motion and the apparent motion of the object due to the rotation of the Earth.
The description of the second unidentified object that appeared early in the morning suggests that it is Venus, which is currently moving behind the Sun and will in the coming months appear as an evening object.
The IIAP team said stars and planets over the horizon in Ladakh appear very bright because of increased atmospheric transparency at the high altitude and both Jupiter and Venus at the time were the brightest planets in the sky.
The astronomers also clarified that objects that rise in the east may appear to be moving across the LAC and approaching the Indian side.
The lance naik cannot be accused of over-reacting. He would have been posted at the height (above 13,000 feet) to function as a sentry/observer. This is not unusual. All along the LAC (as also on the LoC with Pakistan) troops from either side try to set up observation posts on dominating heights to monitor movements on the other side of the undefined frontier.
Eastern Ladakh in particular is a sensitive region. Developments on this frontier led to the India-China war of 1962. Even as recently as last month, Chinese troops on horseback were reported to have crossed the LAC into India-claimed territory.
Over the past 10 years, with advances in surveillance technologies, both armies have been using pilotless aircraft with sensors and high-resolution cameras to watch each other. In the last three years, the number of transgressions reported has spiralled. There were more than 500 between 2010 and 2012. Transgressions are not only over land but also in airspace.
Against this background, sensitivities of the two sides and their armies/border police are extremely high.
A lance naik, a soldier below officer rank, would normally be reporting to a subedar major, a junior commissioned officer – also a “personnel below officer rank”. The report usually winds its way up through a series of ranks to reach the higher echelons.
From the army’s point of view, personal networks, bureaucratic red tape, inter-personal networks and a spirit of scientific enquiry have combined to bust the myth of UFOs over Eastern Ladakh, a phenomenon that so fascinated the tense sentinels of a harsh frontier.