An abandoned Soviet observatory on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere in Tajikistan sounds inviting, no? Shorbulak Observatory, once the site of challenging astronomical observations, stands as a remnant of the former Soviet Union.
Located some 4,350 meters (14,200 feet) above sea level, this remote site in the Pamir mountains was perfect for an observatory. The dry climate made it an ideal spot to study submillimeter-wavelength astronomy. Observing these incredibly short wavelengths can be especially challenging because water in the atmosphere can interfere with measurements. Land-based observatories that can study this type of astronomy must be located at dry, cool sites with stable weather conditions located far from dense population. Other sites include Mauna Kea in Hawaii, the Llano de Chajnantor Observatory in Chile, the South Pole, and Hanle in India.
Shorbulak was an outpost of the Pulkovo Observatory—officially known as the Central Astronomical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences at Pulkovo. It was one of several offshoots of Pulkovo Observatory, with others located in Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Caucasus Mountains, Chile, and Bolivia. In the 1980s, the observatory was run by Russian astrophysicist Kirill Maslennikov.
Though it is no longer active, Shorbulak Observatory still stands in its location in the Pamirs. But reaching it is no easy feat. First you must get to the Pamir Highway, the second highest altitude highway in the world. Heading south of the city of Murgab, you must get off the beaten path for a good piece of land and sandy roads. It takes a while, but as soon as you get there you are rewarded with the site of an abandoned Soviet village, old trucks, warehouses, and the empty observatory right over the hill.
Know Before You Go
It is possible to visit the village and see the outside of the observatory, but the building itself is private property. Please be respectful of the laws and posted signs. Be aware that a 4x4 vehicle is advisable, since is an off-road environment.