Cows, Quasars, and Cosmic Rays

August 23, 2007

Day-4 at the Joint European National Astronomy Meeting. Much stuff today about Very High Energy Astronomy. This was hot stuff some decades ago, but is now undergoing a revival. Felix Ahoronian showed how TeV astronomy is finally taking off, with HESS, MAGIC, and VERITAS detecting real sources at high S/N. John Carr reviewed neutrino astronomy – under the sea (ANTARES), under lakes (BAIKAL), and under the Antarctic Ice (AMANDA) – which seems just on the brink of becoming real astronomy (roll on ICECUBE). These are maybe the last new windows on the Universe. Meanwhile Vahe Petrosian reviewed particle acceleration in the Universe, and argued that shock acceleration is not the solution to everything as most people have assumed for thre decades ; the answer is stochastic (second order Fermi) acceleration, and the snag is we need to understand turbulence …

Last night we had our excursion to Byurakan Observatory. As ICows and 2.6m at Byurukan explained a few days ago, this is something of a pilgrimage for Active Galaxy and Quasar fans, especially because this is where Markarian and Arakelian undertook their historic objective prism surveys, searching the cosmos for the blue and emission line objects – especially starburst galaxies and active galactic nuclei.

Its a beautiful observatory, spread out over a rural setting on the slopes of Mount Aragatz, and with a stunning view of the enormous Mount Ararat (of Noah’s Ark fame..). There are cows all the over the place (see pic-1). This is is nearly as good as the AAO being overrun with kangaroos. In the dalek-like 2.6M dome, there isYours truly on the BAO 2.6m controls a control system that seems to come from the Ark. As well as analogue dials, there are two computers, but they are Pentium IIIs… Pic-2, taken by Jonathan Tedds, shows yours truly pretending to control the telescope but actually coming out a bit Phantom of the Opera-ish.

Following this there was a lovely outdoor dinner on the longest table I have EVER seen. I tried hard to be rude to various French astronomers but they are just too ready with the timed riposte and le bon mot. Dammn.

Yes Yes I know Google Sky got released today but the network here is so crap I can’t really try it out yet.