Notes From Hairenik
Last Sunday I had the rare opportunity to visit the Cosmic Ray Division of the Alikhanyan Yerevan Physics Institute and the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory on Sunday with a group comprised mostly of my fellow employees. It was a fascinating day to say the least.

The Cosmic Ray Division's undertakings are performed in a campus of about a dozen or so buildings near the top of Mt. Aragats, the tallest mountain in Armenia. Adjacent to the campus is the lake, which is undoubtedly higher than Lake Sevan in terms of altitude but is more the size of a large pond, which incidentally contains "sig" fish. There is a network of tunnels connecting most buildings allowing the technicians to walk between them during the most brutal of conditions there--the site is covered with snow for nearly 10 months of the year. As soon as I started walking around the place I remembered Joe Dagdigian of the Lowell, Massachusetts area who often seeks the support of Armenian community members to keep the campus functioning.

Basically the Cosmic Ray Division is concerned with primarily two things--measuring particles that enter the earth's atmosphere from outer space and studying the charge they have. It is one of only five such institutes that do the same kind of research in the world. The institute also studies weather patterns. According to the "What's On In Physics Web" site, the institute recently won the UN's World Summit on Information Society Award. We were given a tour over most of the complex, where we were able to see a few currently running projects as well as one massive undertaking that was to employ a 3,000 tonne magnet in an underground bunker of sorts, but was never realized due to the break up of the Soviet Union. Aside from government funding, which I can just imagine is fairly meager, the institute relies on foreign assistance, from the Japanese for instance.

At Byurakan, located about 1,000 meters or so from the base of Mt. Aragats, there are five telescopes in all, the largest being a massive 2.6 m cassegrain reflector. The site was under the direction of Viktor Hambardzumyan,--who was one of the greatest astrophysicists of the Soviet Union--since it was founded in 1946. I was able to enter the building which contained that telescope, but unfortunately we could not see it in action as it was too early to view any stellar objects. But by the time we reached one of the smaller telescopes, the stars and planets--namely Jupiter--were waiting for us to gaze upon them. That telescope had about four different viewfinders, one of which gave a direct magnified view of the object that was focused upon while the others displayed alternate views presented through reflecting mirrors. Incidentally, the observatory campus is a great park full of orchards and rare trees not indigenous to Armenia. Simply strolling around there was a pleasure.

You can visit the Byurakan Observatory's Web site here.


Blogger Ara said...
I love that place. I visited it the first time in the early 90's. I have a picture sitting at the control panel of the big dish is used to listen to things in outerspace. It looked at that time like the control room on the Star Ship Enterpirse, dials and all.

Those who make their way to Armenia should go out of there way to visit that place. Well worth the trip.

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