It began its observations in 1987 but was only operational for three years

The infiltration of Spanish explorers into the Orgov radio-optical telescope, in Armenia

The Armenian engineer Paris Herouni (1933-2008) was a pioneer responsible for the construction of the first and only radio-optical telescope in the world.

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When he was only 31 years old, he already held the position of deputy director of science at the Institute of Radiophysics and Electronics of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, then part of the USSR. In 1964 he made a very original proposal to the famous scientist Sergei Korolev, the father of the Soviet space program: the creation of a new type of telescope for space observation, with a fixed spherical mirror and a mobile assistant. It was a very ambitious project that required great technical precision in its construction.

The spherical mirror of the Orgov observatory (Photo:

The project interested Korolev and he approved it, but due to the slow Soviet bureaucracy he did not see it carried out, as he died in 1966. Finally, the telescope began to be built in 1975 with the support of the Research Institute of Radiophysics of Yerevan, in Armenia. The mirror conceived by Herouni ended up being smaller than he had dreamed of, due to lack of funds: he once planned a mirror up to 200 meters in diameter, but finally it was 54 meters strong>, which is why it was officially called ROT-54.

The moving mirror of the Orgov radio-optical telescope (Photo: Inky from the tape).

The large telescope was built in Orgov, on the southern slope of Mount Aragats, an extinct volcano in western Armenia and the highest point in this country (its summit reaches 4,095 meters). The observatory was built at 1,700 meters above sea level, digging a large pit for the installation of the mirror, into which concrete was poured forming a large bowl.

The panels of the spherical mirror of the observatory (Photo: Inky from the tape).

The most complex part of the telescope was the polishing of the 3,600 metal panels that formed the large mirror, since it needed micrometric precision so that the images captured were of good quality. There was no foundry in the entire USSR capable of doing this high-quality work, but Herouni ended up finding an expert in aluminum casting in Yerevan who was already retired and who showed himself capable of taking on the challenge. The observatory was completed in 1987, after 12 long years of work. Among his observations was Eta Geminorum, a triple star system in the Gemini constellation.

The interior of the observatory (Photo: Yuri Krupenin).

The Orgov observatory ceased operations in 1990, only three years after the beginning of its activity, coinciding with the time of great economic difficulties that led to the disappearance of the USSR. A few years later work was carried out to restore and update it, but lack of funds ended up causing most of the observatory to be abandoned. ROT-54 has been practically abandoned since 2012 and the Armenian State does not currently have the necessary funds to restore it, a project that would require updating its obsolete computer systems.

One of the main obstacles to restarting the observatory are its systems, which have become obsolete (Photo: Yuri Krupenin).

A few weeks ago, the YouTube channel Okos published an interesting video that shows the infiltration of explorers into this old observatory, which is still guarded today. In the video we can see the interior of the telescope and also the unfinished solar power plant nearby (the video is in Spanish, you can activate the automatic English subtitles in the bottom bar of the player):


Main image: Okos.

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