Government to set up Neutrino Observatory in the country

  • Context: India based Neutrino observatory (INO) will observe neutrinos produced in the atmosphere of the Earth.
  • This observation will tell us more about the properties of neutrino particles, whose main source is the Sun and the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • The neutrino detector will be a magnetized iron calorimeter, which will be the heaviest one made by any country.
  • The site identified is in Bodi West Hills, in Theni district, Tamil Nadu.

Analysis

Indian Neutrino Observatory

  • The proposed INO (Indian Neutrino Observatory) project primarily aims to study atmospheric neutrinos in a 1,300-m deep cavern in the Bodi West Hills in Theni district, Tamil Nadu.
  • When completed, the INO would house the largest magnet in the world.
  • The underground laboratory will be located nearly 1.5 km below the Earth’s surface, where a giant neutrino detector is to be placed in the cavern at the end of a 2 km horizontal tunnel at the INO site.
  • Once built, INO would be the biggest research facility in India. 

Neutrinos

  • Neutrinos are subatomic particles produced by the decay of radioactive elements and lack an electric charge.
  • They are almost massless and travel at near-light speeds.
  • Born from violent astrophysical events such as exploding stars and gamma-ray bursts, they are abundant in the universe and can move as easily through matter as we move through the air.
  • They are notoriously difficult to track down/detect because they pass seamlessly through all kinds of matter.
  • These little wisps hold the blueprint of nature, which the INO project aims to use to understand some of the unsolved mysteries of the universe.
  • The Sun emits billions of neutrinos every second.
  • Neutrinos are now considered to be the second most abundant particle in the universe — after the photon, or light particle.
  • Research on neutrinos has led to award of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002 and 2015, and before that, in 1988 and 1995.

The characteristics which make neutrinos useful for astronomy are:

  1. They are produced in large quantities in high-energy collisions,
  2. They travel essentially at the speed of light,
  3. They are unaffected by magnetic fields,
  4. They are affected only by gravity because of their energy content and
  5. They are unabsorbed as they travel cosmological distances between their origin and us.

Series of holdups

  • The project has been mired in all kinds of trouble — litigation, public protests, opposition from NGOs and political parties, besides government apathy. It has had to move locations once, because the nearby Mudhumalai National Park had been declared a tiger reserve during the same time.
  • The India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) project has become controversial on environmental grounds, given the proposed site’s proximity to the Mathikettan Shola National Park in Kerala’s Western Ghats, a global biodiversity hotspot. 

Eco Sensitive Areas

  • cologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs), as identified by the High Level Working Group chaired by Dr. Kasturirangan, have been identified and notified by the Indian Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) since 1989.
  • Notifications declaring areas as ESAs are issued under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986.
  • However, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 does not mention the word “Eco-Sensitive Zones”. 
  • The clauses of the EPA which allow for the notification of ESAs hold the possibility of realising landscape-level conservation.

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