The giant telescope. A unique astronomical instrument located in Ukraine.

Until 2014, the largest telescope in Ukraine was the G.A. Shine Mirror Telescope. However, together with other instruments of the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory, it was stolen by Russia. This is a truly unique instrument, which is sometimes said to be the largest in Europe. In this article we will try to find out whether this is true or not.

Дзеркальний телескоп ім. Г. А. Шайна
The G. A. Shine Mirror Telescope

The largest telescope in Ukraine

Modern astronomy is a science that uses really big instruments. Anything that a person can carry on his or her own, even when disassembled, has long been considered an amateur instrument. Professionals use telescopes that weigh tens or hundreds of tonnes.

There are such instruments in Ukraine as well. The largest of them is the G.A. Shine Mirror Telescope. Unfortunately, it is located in the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory, which was stolen by Russia in 2014 along with the entire peninsula. However, we remember whose property it really is.

Григорій Абрамович Шайн
Grigory Abramovich Shain. Source: Wikipedia

The telescope owes its name to Grigory Abramovich Shain, a native of Odesa who worked at the Simeiz Observatory since the 1920s. His primal scientific interest was spectra and rotation of stars, so he always needed large and high-quality instruments.

When Schein became the head of the newly created observatory in 1945, he realised that it was necessary not only to rebuild what had been destroyed during the World War II, but also to create modern instruments. That is why he began to promote the idea of a truly large telescope. However, the Soviet government adopted the programme for its construction only in 1954. In 1960, tests of the Shine Mirror Telescope began, and it was finally put into operation in 1961. Grigory Abramovich himself did not live to see this moment, having died in 1956.

What makes the telescope’s design unique

The Shine Mirror Telescope is a reflector type. This means that the magnification is achieved not by a lens system, but by a curved mirror that collects light at a single point. This principle is standard for all large optical instruments of our time. It allows you to achieve high magnification without distorting the image.

Дзеркальний телескоп Шайна
The Shine mirror telescope. Source: Wikipedia

The telescope installed in Crimea is a really big instrument. Its main mirror is 2.64 metres in diameter. It is made of 40 cm thick borosilicate glass and weighs 4 tonnes. The tube of the refractor weighs 30 tonnes, and the entire movable part of its structure weighs 62 tonnes.

However, it is not this that makes it truly unique, but the presence of several focal points at once. After being collected by the main mirror, light is directed to four independent optical systems linked to different foci. Each of them can be fitted with a separate instrument, such as a CCD or spectroscope, and thus allow for comprehensive research.

Is the Schein Mirror Telescope the largest in Europe?

At the time of its creation, the Shine Mirror Telescope was the third largest mirror in the world and the most powerful astronomical instrument in the visible part of the spectrum in Eurasia. Only the 5-metre refractor of the Palomar Observatory and the 3-metre refractor of the Lick Observatory were larger than it. Both are located in North America.

However, 60 years have passed since it started working, and astronomy has made several steps forward since then. Even the James Webb telescope, whose mirror has a diameter of 6.5 metres, has been launched into orbit. Ground-based telescopes have long since crossed the 10-metre limit. And soon, an instrument with a 39-metre diameter mirror will start working.

Телескоп в обертовій вежі
A telescope in a rotating tower

Officially, the G. A. Schein Mirror Telescope is the second largest mirror in the post-Soviet space. It is second only to the 6-metre BTA-6 reflector in Karachay-Cherkessia.

In Europe, its mirror diameter is second only to four astronomical instruments: The Large Telescope of the Canary Islands (10.4 m), the William Herschel Telescope (4.2 m), the Galileo National Telescope (3.58 m) and the main instrument of the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain (3.5 m). Overall, it is the 49th largest in the world.