The Aragats Cosmic Ray Research Station in Armenia—a once bustling center of physics, devoted to the study of cosmic rays—is the focus of a fresh article by The New York Times.
Cosmic rays are high-energy particles thrown from exploding stars, black holes and other astrophysical calamities thousands or millions of light-years away and whistling down from space.
“The buildings and the instruments at Aragats remain, like ghost ships in the cosmic rain, maintained for long stretches of time by a skeleton crew of two technicians and a cook. They still wait for news that could change the universe: a quantum bullet more powerful than humans can produce, or weirder than their tentative laws can explain; trouble blowing in from the sun,” the article says.
The Aragats Cosmic Ray Research Station, a branch of the A.I. Alikhanyan National Science Laboratory in Yerevan, was established in 1943, when Armenia was part of the Soviet Union. In its heyday, more than 100 scientists worked there keeping track of the hard rain from space.
Now sometimes only three people work there, keeping steady watch on machines that watch the universe. But, surprisingly, science has survived and thrived there. In recent years the station’s work has focused on solar physics and the high-speed protons thrown from the surface of the sun — space weather, in short. The lab has also investigated radiation that hits Earth’s surface from thunderstorms. As a result the lab, despite losing most of its funds and work force, has increased its production of publications and conference reports tenfold in the past two decades, Dr. Ashot Chilingaryan, director of the A.I. Alikhanyan National Science Laboratory and head of its Cosmic Ray Division said. His scientists delivered five papers at a recent geophysics meeting in San Francisco.