July 7, 1400, after about 20 years of waiting, The National Observatory of Iran was opened. The opening announced the unveiling of the 90-ton structure of the National Observatory Telescope without a mirror. The 3.4-meter mirror of this observatory still has a long way to go to reach the 3600-meter peak of Gorgesh. The mirror has not been layered yet and the condition of the wolf road is not favorable for moving the mirror. Also, other important tools of this observatory have not been installed in their place. These margins have also provoked the reaction of foreign scientific media. What follows is a translation of the ScienceMag article, as a reaction of a credible foreign scientific media to the opening of the National Observatory of Iran.
The opening ceremony of the National Observatory of Iran should have been an honor for people like “Sepehr Arbabi”. Sepehr Arbabi Akhtar is a physicist who has been trying for 13 years to prevent the construction of a national observatory to install one of the best optics in the world with a suitable infrastructure in Iran. Arbabi left the project five years ago and now works at a university in Germany.
Under these circumstances, some Iranian physicists are worried that the unknown management of the project, along with the change of the presidency of Iran, will lead to problems in the $ 30 million project of the National Observatory of Iran. This structure is the largest scientific project undertaken by Iran so far. Some say astronomers need another chance to reconsider changes to the telescope’s design. It also needs to be determined who will have access to the telescope in the future.
The current project managers have not yet installed the two main parts of the telescope, the 3.4-meter mirror and its adapter. For this reason, many believe that the opening of the National Observatory of Iran was “untimely.” The Iranian Astronomical Society also blamed such an early move in statements. However, astronomers cannot set up and calibrate the telescope, and it even seems that the first light with the telescope will not occur for at least the next two years.
Astronomers thought that the National Observatory could be a way back to their heyday in the previous millennium; A time when Europe was in its dark days and the land of Persia was considered the capital of astronomers. In the early 1980s, Reza Mansouri, a theoretical physicist and professor at Sharif University of Technology, took over the construction of the National Observatory of Iran. In 2004, Mansouri decided to convince Arbabi to leave his job at Airbus Germany and return to Iran as a project engineer to build an observatory.
Finally, Gargash Peak near Kashan was chosen to build the National Observatory. Wolf is located at an altitude of 3600 meters above sea level and is in a situation with very little weather distortion and only a few nights in a cloudy year. Arn Erdberg, an astronomer at Lund University in Sweden, believed that this was the best place to build an observatory. Ardberg traveled to Wolf Peak in the late 1980s and tried to convince the project managers to build the National Observatory of Iran at the site. Although it was very difficult to get to his wolf at the time, it was still worth it.
Meanwhile, Arbabi was tasked with importing a 1.95 million euro mirror from Germany to Iran. Given the sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program, such a move would require Iranians to go through a bureaucratic maze. Although Arbabi always saw the observatory’s successful angles, he says he was always treated like a stranger. The Institute of Basic Sciences fired Mansouri from the project management in 2016, and it did not take long for Arbabi to be removed from the project engineering.
Mansouri said he was concerned about recent changes to the design of the observatory dome. Although he no longer has access to the observatory’s documentation, he said with images released of the structure that project management has drastically changed the original design. For example, Mansouri says the telescope mirror is not high enough that it is not affected by heat fluctuations. Also, the telescope chamber does not have enough ventilation to reduce these oscillations. Mansouri says he fears that the National Observatory of Iran will become a third world telescope instead of a world-class observatory. Despite the current director of the National Observatory of Iran has not yet responded to these issues.
Another concern of astronomers is the change of government in Iran and how it will affect the progress of the National Observatory. Habib Khosroshahi, the current director of the National Observatory of Iran in 1397, told Nature magazine that the observations made with the National Observatory will be made available to the international community. But President-elect Ibrahim Ra’isi has not yet set his scientific priorities, and his inclination toward international cooperation and basic research is still unclear.
Some astronomers are still hopeful. Also, the National Observatory of Iran, if opened, has a lot of potential and can carry out research that has never happened before in Iran. Astronomers plan to use the telescope to study the formation of galaxies and search for extrasolar planets. They can also learn the position of planets and galaxies by machine learning.
The director of the Iranian Astronomical Society, Moin Mosleh, says he intends to join the National Observatory team in the near future so that the Iranian astronomical community can participate more widely in the observatory complex. In his view, the National Observatory of Iran is currently technically well advanced, but the definition of astronomical projects and the participation of astronomers in the observatory is very important to consider.