Magazine Jan/Feb 2013 875 Reflections of Armenia

30 January 2013, 02:25
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875 Reflections of Armenia

The largest Cherenkov telescope in the world has the word Armenia written 875 times on each of its large mirrors. All mirrors of this tall 560-ton telescope were made by the Galaxy Company located in Garni, Armenia and led by Dr. Ara Mirzoyan. The official inauguration of the HESS II telescope took place on September 28, 2012, and among the 170 scientists from 32 research institutions in 12 different countries was a group of physicists from the Department of Physics and Astrophysics of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia and Yerevan Physics Institute.

As long as I have known Dr. Ara Mirzoyan, his dream was to restore the grandeur of the past achievements of astronomy and astrophysics in Armenia. This was not a coincidence – his father, the prominent astrophysicist Professor Lyudvik Mirzoyan, worked most of his career at the Byurakan Observatory side by side with the President of the International Astronomical Union, Viktor Hambartsumian. Back in the Soviet period, the observatory discovered special star clusters – stellar associations, more than 1,000 flare stars, dozens of Supernovae, hundreds of space objects, cometary nebulae and galaxies.

Unfortunately, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the observatory was largely neglected and underfunded. Many of the scientists scattered around the globe and the technical staffs either retired or moved to other fields of occupation. Ara Mirzoyan, after receiving his Ph.D. in astrophysics, also served his country as the Vice Consul of Armenia in Los Angeles and later became the General Manager of the Coca-Cola plant in Armenia. Quite successful in these new high positions, he nevertheless could not entirely abandon the idea of pursuing his career in science. His mentor and close friend Professor Felix Aharonian left Armenia to become the world’s leading specialist in the field of High Energy Cosmic Gamma Ray Astronomy.

Felix Aharonian shared Mirzoyan’s dream – to reinstate his country on the map of the global scientific community. To do it, Aharonian’svision was to shift priorities from the old Soviet mentality – from pursuing a self-contained, locally centered advancement of fundamental fields of science to integration with the broader framework of the global scientific community. He proposed a smaller scale approach – choosing a field where Armenia traditionally excelled and advancing it in a financially viable way. Astrophysics was an ideal field in that sense because Armenia traditionally had the intellectual resources, and it was a field that was comparatively less expensive to pursue. Among other international projects,

Professor Aharonian and his team at Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg, Germany, were actively involved in the international collaboration called HESS, the High-Energy Stereoscopic System. An observatory in Namibia was the base of the project, and the location was chosen because the atmospheric conditions are favorable for observations.

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