In the central park of Tashkent (the capitol city of Uzbekistan) stands this statue of Tammerlane (Timur), a 14th century warlord that the Uzbeks chose to be their cultural symbol when they gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Tammerlane was a patron of the arts, but he was also a bloodthirsty warrior that made Stalin and Hitler look like boy scouts.
About 90 minutes drive east of Tashkent puts you in the foothills of the western Tien-Shien mountains. We are looking over the waters of Chorvak reservoir - 2 billion cubic meters of water held back by an enormous earthen gravity dam.
Strong geologic process folded these strata near Chorvak reservoir.
Chimgan peak (3,309m) is a popular mountian climbing destination, especially because higher peaks to the north and east are in areas that are permanently closed because of security concerns by the Uzbek government...fear of Islamic terrorists and their use of mountainous terrain in outlying border regions.
In the middle of Tashkent is the Uleg Beg observatory and meteorological station. Here are the weather instruments.
One of the observatory buildings. I did not get inside, so I don't know what instruments it held in better, Soviet days (when subsidies regularly came from Moscow).
Main entrance of observatory admin/support building. Note the signs in Uzbek and Russian.
This sign is in Uzbek, but uses Cyrillic alphabet? That's the influcence of the Russians. Originally Uzbek used an Arabic script, but in the very early 20th century switched to Latin letters (the alphabet we use), then the Soviets changed their minds for them. ;-) One language, a history of three alphabets...and it may switch back to Latin once again. Stay tuned.
Russian. It says "Founded in 1873."
Russian: "At this site, during the Second World War (1941 - 1945) Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory (Soviet Academy of Sciences) relocated." Yes, the evacuation of Soviet industry, science, population, etc. (to avoid the Nazi advance) was large-scale, and made it as far Tashkent. That's what industrialized this city, and it also created a large population of 'war orphans' that were 'adopted' as they were handed down off the train. There's a statue in Tashkent honoring one Uzbek family that adopted 11 Russian children.
A visit to Tashkent's botanical gardens. The city's latitude is about the same as Colunbus, Ohio, yet in the summer it's 95-105F for months. We're at the eastern edge of one of the largest deserts of the world - the Qizilqum/Kyzylkum desert. Since we are near the Tien-Shen mountains to the east there is plenty of water from snowpack melt...and Tashkent is packed with fountains and greenery.
Dennis Nikitin, engineer and amateur telescope maker, and his son Ilya. Ilya has Gluten-Sensitive Enteropathy (Celiac Disease) - his body can't digest gluten protien, so he needs a special diet. In the US that is not a problem, you can find gluten-free foods in just about any supermarket. In Uzbekistan that is a major effort.
Elnora, Dennis' wife.
In much of Central Asia if you go out to a fancy restaurant, you don't just get a meal...you get an evening of entertainment with music and dancers!
Costume changes too!
A team of USAF medical personnel came to Tashkent as a mobile training team. The topic: emergency response. (Central Asia is seismically active and Tashkent was largely destroyed in 1966 by an earthquake.) Here team members are demonstrating some field techniques on a sheep (instead of a human).
Classroom instruction was part of the training team. The USAF instructors spoke in English, but we had Russian translators speaking in parallel, and all training materials were also translated into Russian.
Part of the grounds of the Armed Forces Hospital in Tashkent. This hospital was busy during the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan treating war injuries.
A typical view at an outdoor bazar in Tashkent.
USAF special forces gave a weapons demonstration to Uzbek special forces near Karshi-Khanabad airbase...the same airbase at which the Uzbek government allowed US forces access and use. Imagine!...a former Soviet republic...allowing US forces to use their airspace and military base! Who could have imagined this 20 years ago? Not even Tom Clancy!
I had never fired a 12-gauge shotgun before. They warned me to maintain a good cheek weld to the stock. Good thing, because it had quite a kick!
At places like this in the mountains east of Tashkent you could by kumiz...fermented mare's milk. Imagine mixing milk and beer. It's quite a popular drink!
Chimgan peak sports September snow.
Far from city lights, the night sky was dark and a great place for observing.
Riding the 25-minute chair lift at Bildersay - one of two ski resorts east of Tashkent. This is early season and snow cover is still rather thin. But the lift ticket was only $5!
Later in the season the snowpack was much deeper, and if you timed it right you could ski powder in Central Asia.
Just another crappy day in paradise.
Vehicle maintenance class at one of the Uzbek Army NCO academies.
Panorama of the Registan in Smarkand, one of the famous Silk Road cities.
Camping in the foothills of the Tien Shen mountains east of Tashkent.
The 'far side' of Chorvak reservoir.
Dennis Nikitin sits on a latitude marker (N39 08') in Kitab. Four sites were chosen (a century ago?) as astronomical latitude measuring stations (Maryland, California, Japan, and Uzbekistan). Today such work is done with GPS receivers.
This old (no longer in use) transit telescope was used to make latitude measurements.
Kitab was also the site of a twin 10-inch, f/10 Zeiss astrograph.
Part of Mount Maidanak, the site of the Uzbek national observatory. This place has seeing as good as some of the best astronomical sites in the world. When we were there the seeing monitor was reporting 0.35 - 0.45 arcsecond seeing...and the views in the eyepiece proved it!
Our temporary camp. It was a 9 hour drive over twisting roads to get here from Tashkent.
Two empty, unused, uncompleted telescope shelters. Dennis and I walked about inside them. They bear a very strong resemblence to the shelter for the MMT (Multiple Mirror Telescope). These projects were started in Soviet times, but funding vanished with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The main/largest instrument operational on Mount Maidanak (in the summer of 2003) is a 1.5-m telescope atop this high, elevated observatory tower. Air is vented from the dome and ducted away, underground, to a point several hundred meters away. This is done to reduce the deleterious effects of 'dome seeing'.
The DIMM (differential image motion monitor) at Mount Maidanak is a Celestron C-11 with an aperture mask that contains two apertures...one with a very weak wedge. This creates two images of one star on an ST-5 CCD. Differential motion between the two stars is measured to determine site seeing conditions. This telescope is elevated approximately 25 feet above ground level.
Front view of the DIMM.
There are two peaks to Mount Maidanak. We were at the civilian site. Two kilometers away is the second peak. Dig up an old issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology and you can read details of the optical satellite tracking facility. Here's a view shot through binoculars. Note the platform/floor extension to control/improve local seeing.
Dennis Nikitin standing in front of the 1.5-M telescope.
The dome slit is an unusual arrangement. The lower portion of the slit is on a large hinge (at the very bottom of the slit)...and it swings away from the dome to expose the slit for night operations.
There are also a couple 0.5-M telescopes at Mount Maidanak that do some photometry.
Alisher, the professional astronomer who was our guide, checks the CCD before nightfall.
Back home...I just can't take my eyes off Chimgan Peak. It dominates the horizon.
Dennis' father observing Venus before sunset.
Friends out to see a movie - they are standing in front of two billboards: Matrix-3 (Revolution), and Legally Blonde 2
Dennis, Elnora, Ilya and I would often get together on weeknds for good company, and sometimes touring about Tashkent.
Somewhere between Tashkent and Termez. In the distance we see an irrigation ditch, man made/concrete...open to the air, and probably leaking here and there. Some folks estimate that over 50% of the water in such irrigation systems is lost before it ever arrives at the field. (Termez is an Uzbek border town on the Amu Darya River...across the river is Afghanistan. The Soviets used the 'friendship bridge' at Termez to stage their invasion in 1979.)
On the drive back from Termez we passed this unusual geologic formation. It appears to be strata, rotated to near vertical, and eroded. In the background are 4,000+ meter peaks of the Tien Shen mountains in Kyrgyzstan.
A village in the middle of very dry terrain. They probably get electricity on a sporadic basis.
In Tashkent, with it's heavy irrigation and numerous fountains, the desert seems far away. Spring flowers on the trees are a common sight in the city.