Maria Babakhanyan Stone
This is a conference on the topic of Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) which took place in the Byurakan Observatory, Armenia in 2019.
I was thrilled to be accepted to the conference to present my PhD research.
Unfortunately, my travels did not start well, as the first flight was late, so when I arrived in Moscow, it was too late for my second flight. I had to stay in the airport overnight and then catch a later plane to the Observatory, but I made it on time. In Armenia, the conference organizers already had a driver waiting for me. It was funny, as the driver said that he did not expect to be picking up a woman, since he always picks up male astronomers for the observatory. The drive to the observatory took about an hour and a half through the mountains, and I observed on one of the hills a group of white storks.
Actually, this conference was part of the three events which took back to back in this location. The first one was the International Summer School on AGN, the second was this conference, and the third was a meeting of the South-West and Central Asia Region of the International Astronomical Union (IAU). I participated in the 2-day conference as a presenter and for 1 day in the IAU regional meeting as an attendee.
Since the topic of the conference was in my field of research, it was very interesting to attend and to get exposed to the ideas, research, and mode of thinking from different countries, and especially from the astronomers from Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Iran, and Turkey, with who I had never interacted before.
This observatory also housed several astronomers who contributed to the field of quasars, e.g. the famous Markarian objects. Today, there are still many astronomers working at the Byurakan Observatory in this field. I am interested in networking for potential future collaborations.
Furthermore, the organizers gave us an opportunity to have a guided tour of the house-museum of Victor Hambartsumian, an astronomer born in Georgia but who founded this observatory and launched the modern Astronomy research and educational programs in Armenia in the 20th century.
We also got another guided tour of the telescopes on site, including the 2.6 meter giant. During the tour, I found out that there is also a radio telescope of 54 meters nearby (I think currently needing major repair to function), whose tower we were able to spot from the Byurakan Observatory, but we did not visit it. While the current operation is electronic, originally the Byurakan 2.6 meter telescope had an analog control panel, which was adapted from a submarine. Currently, there are two main instruments for imaging and spectroscopy (SCORPIO, VAGR).
The atmosphere was very friendly, and I had a lot of opportunities to talk to the astronomers during the breaks and during the meal hours. I learned about the observatories and institutes from their countries and even chatted about one postdoc opportunity and one collaboration opportunity. Moreover, I took detailed notes during the presentations. Also, I met with several students from Yerevan State University, and it was interesting to learn how the PhD program worked there and what research they performed during their studies. For example, one of the differences is that the student to graduate with a PhD must publish a single-author paper. During the IAU regional meeting, I also met with people who are involved in engaging with teachers and public. One of the Armenian embassy representatives in Austria sponsored a girl from a local school to participate and visit the Byurakan Observatory. Another person from Poland talked about different activities she led in her organization for teachers, which was very interesting because their programs operated not only in Armenia, but also in Uzbekistan, and other countries.
I got especially interested in continuing my conversations with a few local Armenian astronomers from the Yerevan State University, but also with a group doing blazar research from Georgia, and the activities of the Fesenkov Astrophysical Institute in Kazakhstan. Hopefully, during my career in Astronomy, I will have the opportunity to visit the Abastumani Observatory in Georgia and Kazakhstan telescopes. Dr. Kapanadze is an expert in X-ray astronomy, and since I am interested in working with obscured AGN, he offered to be available if I have any questions with X-ray data.
Everyone was very friendly, even though many of the countries have old political and historical issues. The organizers gifted me with a small miniature of the Byurakan telescope, and the cafeteria ladies supplied me with a ton of love, including local spices, fresh matnaqash and lavash bread from the bakery the morning of departure to bring back to my husband, local fruit, local herbal teas. The local area also has a 10-th century fortress and old churches, but I have to come back another time to visit those.
While this region is not as economically developed as the Western Europe, I think it has a big potential to grow, and I am open to consider collaborating and learning what telescopes I can use as an observing astronomer in these countries.
I thank the University of Turku for the financial support to attend this conference,
I leave you with a series of pictures from my trip below,
- Beautiful views
- Residence Hall, carpeted hallway, my messy room, view outside of my room
- Observatory Grounds, “pulpulak”,sun-clock, old equipment, on the way to cafeteria, to Ambartsumian house, conference building, Fesenkov institute presentation, food
How red are the tomatoes!
- Observatory tour