Vahe Oskanian (1921-1989)


Vahe Oskanian is one of the benefactors of Armenian astronomy. He is simultaneously known both as one of the most outstanding astronomers of Yugoslavia and as one of the leaders of one of the most important directions of the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory; the investigation of variable stars. Vahe Oskanian’s scientific activity is a distinguished example of development of science when in the result of lack of knowledge an opinion and a theory are formed, but the initial viewpoint is denied due to consistent work and addition of knowledge ceding new notions.


Vahe Oskanian was born on September 2, 1921 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. He finished school and gymnasium here. In 1940 Oskanian entered the electrotechincal department of Belgrade University, but the World War II broke out, and Yugoslavia was occupied by the Germans, in correspondence of which all higher educational institutions were closed. With his excellent knowledge of German he started working at Germans, simultaneously collaborating with the movement of secretly functioning opposition.


Since 1946, after the end of the war, changing the department, he continued his study at the department of astronomy of the faculty of mathematics of Belgrade University, which he graduated in 1949. Parallelly, since 1945 he worked at the Belgrade Observatory by public order, and since 1948 he became a constant worker of the observatory. In August, 1949, graduating from the university, Oskanian was enlisted to the Yugoslav Army where he mainly taught mathematics and physics to the officers of the naval ordnance of the Yugoslav Army newly created after the war. In December, 1950, completing the service, he returned to his work at the department of double and variable stars of Belgrade University. He made his first observations with the help of Graph visual photometer. Then he undertook the making of a new high sensitivity electrophotometer-polarimeter for observations of stars. At the same time he took part in observatory works of services of the activity of the Sun and the occultation of stars by the Moon. The works that Vahe Oskanian published in 1946-1953 are mainly devoted to these fields.


Since 1952 on Oskanian’s initiative the group of investigation of variable stars was separated. Its aim was to investigate newly revealed stars of UV Ceti type and red dwarf stars displaying flare activity. Using his own made electrophotometer-polarimeter for this purpose, in 1952-1953 the largest flares, ever observed on UV Ceti Star, were registered.


Since 1955 Oskanian became a member of International Astronomical Union (IAU).


In 1956-1957 with an intention of collaboration he worked and refined at the Byurakan Observatory. In 1960 he founded the department of astrophysics of the Belgrade Observatory, which he headed until 1966. In 1961 Oskanian defended a doctorate thesis on the topic “Variable Stars of UV Ceti Type”. Since 1964 he professed at the department of astrophysics of the faculty of mathematics of Belgrade University. In 1964 and in 1965 he was elected the Head of the Belgrade Observatory; parallelly he was the Editor-in-Chief of the periodicals “Bulletin of the Belgrade Observatory” and “Publications of the Belgrade Observatory”.


In 1966 Oskanian moved to Armenia with his family and continued his work at the laboratory of electrophotometry of the Byurakan Observatory which he headed from 1970 to 1986. In 1970-1980 he professed the professional course of practical astrophysics, electro-photometry at the chair of astrophysics of the department of physics of Yerevan State University. In 1986 he moved from the Byurakan Observatory to “All-Union Institute of Radiophysical Measurements”, where he held the post of the head of the department of astrophysics.


Since the Belgrade Observatory had an astrometric bias, naturally most of the early works of Oskanian’s scientific activity were also astrometrical, except the investigations of the activity of the Sun. But he was more interested in astronomical problems, particularly those years newly revealed red dwarf stars displaying flare activity, and after a short time he started investigating those stars. These stars, which were called flare stars, later became the main subject of Oskanian’s scientific activity. The classification of flares of stars according to the brightness and duration of the flare belongs to him. His further investigations indicated that such flares took place on other stars as well (not only on red dwarf stars), and the flares of all those stars, as well as the flares of the Sun, had the same nature.


The year of professionalization spent at the Byurakan Observatory had a special significance in Oskanian’s scientific life. It was stimulation for founding a department of astrophysics in the Belgrade Observatory; due to its works the observatory changed its main scientific direction. In 1953-1962 Oskanian had an active role in the popularization of the astronomy in Yugoslavia, gave numerous lectures and published 23 popular scientific articles in different periodicals.


Giving importance to the observational astronomy, he was interested in the problems of increasing the efficiency of observations, as well as the problems of getting utmost information from measurements, in other words the use of information theory in astronomical observations, which allows to estimate the obtained information, and based on this to organize the measurements so that the informativity of obtained material will be maximum. The results of those investigations were summarized in a number of articles.


During the last years of his life he was particularly interested in the problem of description of polarized light. The comprehensive statistical working out of numerous, accurately made measurements indicated that against the existing opinion that the polarization of light was described only by wave nature of the light; in fact it is more accurately introduced by a quantum approach. Unfortunately, those works were not completed because of his early death.


The results of his scientific activity were summarized in various periodicals and books published in 87 articles. Vahe Oskanian passed away in 1989 in Yerevan.