Special Astrophysical Observatory

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Special Astrophysical Observatory

The main observing facility, for optical and radio astronomy, of the Academy of Sciences of the former USSR. It is located in the Russian Caucasus between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. The instruments include the 6-meter optical telescope at Zelenchukskaya Observatory and the RATAN 600 radio telescope.

Special Astrophysical Observatory


a scientific research institution of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. It is located in the northern foothills of the Glavnyi, or Vodorazdel’-nyi, Range of the Greater Caucasus, in Zelenchukskaia Raion of the Karachai-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast. The observatory was founded in 1966 as the USSR’s largest scientific center for astrophysics and radio astronomy.

The observatory’s principal instruments are three optical telescopes of the reflecting type and a large radio telescope. One of the reflecting telescopes, the BTA, is the largest in the world. It has an altazimuth mounting, and the diameter of the primary mirror is 6 m. The telescope was put into operation in 1975 and is located at an elevation of 2,070 m. The other two reflecting telescopes have 60-cm mirrors. The multipurpose multiprogram RATAN-600 radio telescope is used for radio observations at wavelengths of 1–30 cm. It has the largest variable-profile antenna in the world; the geometric area of the antenna is 10,000 m2. Located at an elevation of 970 m, the radio telescope was put into operation in 1975. The observatory also has a computer center.

Research is carried on at the observatory in several areas. Variable stars, close binary stars, massive young stars, and magnetic stars are investigated, and studies are made in stellar cosmogony. Radio-astronomical investigations are conducted of the sun, planets, planetary satellites, interstellar medium, and structure of the Galaxy. Unusual objects in space are searched for and studied. Comprehensive study of the structure and evolution of extra-galactic objects is carried out in the optical, infrared, and radio-frequency regions of the spectrum. The structure and dynamics of galaxy systems are investigated. Cosmology is also a subject of research.

The Special Astrophysical Observatory has a branch in Leningrad (Pulkovo) that carries on methodological research in radio astronomy. The branch’s radio telescope has a variable-profile antenna with a geometric area of approximately 400 m2. The radio telescope is used for research at wavelengths of 2–30 cm.

The Special Astrophysical Observatory has published Soob-shcheniia SAO (Reports of the SAO) since 1968 and Astrofizicheskie issledovaniia (hvestiia SAO) (Astrophysical Research [Proceedings of the SAO]) since 1970.


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