Uzbekistan is well known for its architectural legacy, for its ancient cities that are older than the Rome itself, brilliant mosques and madrassahs, blue tiled domes and picturesque Oriental bazaars. Open any tourist guide and you will get a plenty information on that. Standard tourist tours designed with the principle to ‘fit-them-all’ will take you to Samarkand, Bukhara or Khiva but somehow miss probably one of the most interesting sights of Uzbekistan, a unique and truly amazing site, the height of the human thought, the futuristic object that you would probably never expect to find in this part of the world.
Even if you are a history lover and travel to Uzbekistan with the only aim to visit its ancient cities do not make a mistake to miss a visit to The Institute of Sun that is located just 2 hours drive from Tashkent in a small imperceptible town of Parkent.
Parkent is a small (35 thousand inhabitants) and very Uzbek town in the foothills of the Western Tien Shan. To get there from Tashkent you would need to head to Kuilyuk - an incredibly crowded bazaar on the southeast outskirts of Tashkent, that is also functioning as a suburban bus station and where you can easily find a shared taxi or marshutka.
The history of present Parkent is not well known, but the town had a Sogdian predecessor, Farnkent, the "city of Farn" - a Zoroastrian deity, the embodiment of sunlight. But it was a long time ago, and the current Parkent slowly grew up in XXth century and passed all the stages from being the small village with the bazaar to town – the status it received in 1984.
At the Parkent bazaar that is really impressive you can take a taxi and head to Kuyosh (translated from Uzbek as the Sun), a small settlement located 7 kilometers from the Parkent that was built for scientists working at solar (heliocomplex) complex.
Ahead you can see a Chatkal range, one of the main ranges in the Western Tien Shan. The mountain Kyzylnura (3267m) dominates here and in a good weather is seen even from Tashkent.
Approaching the heliocomplex you will see the Great Solar Furnace, built in 1981-87 for the Institute of Solar Physics.
Architects did a good job as this huge and fragile construction was built in a seismically dangerous area, they found here a small area with a powerful natural "foundation", smoothing out the seismic tremors.
Heliocomplex stands at an altitude of 1,050 meters above sea level, but it seems that it is right "under the sky" – for some reason the Sun here is brighter than even a few kilometers away. The place was chosen due to clear and low-density atmosphere, and 270-290 sunny days a year. The solar sign on the tower is not a decoration: this thing catches the angle of the sun's rays, directing the whole complex system of the solar complex.
They charge a small (around $5) entrance fee to the territory of Institute. The Institute of Sun was established in 1981, at the same time its main building and residential settlement nearby village were built. At the main entrance you will come across a reflector as a symbol of the complex. The territory of the complex is very clean and in perfect order.
The centre of the complex is the so called Solar oven. So, how does the Solar oven work? First of all, sunlight lands on a field of 62 heliostats turned to the south - from a distance they look like solar batteries, that are usually matte but these ones are made of mirror.
a truly cosmic view ...
And though the glass of mirrors are covered in dust ...
... the reflection of the Sun in them is brighter than the real Sun
The solar oven in miniature is essentially a solar cooker. You can literally burn the palm at the point of convergence of the rays. According to the local guard, sometimes they cook their food here, the omelette can be ready in less than half an hour.
Small solar cooker is just for tourists entertainment to give them an idea how the real complex works. This is a reduced model of a grand solar concentrator. The concave mirror measuring 54 by 47 meters leaves an indelible impression.
Opposite the reflector is a technical tower, from one side it accommodates the laboratory:
And on the other side - the furnace itself, closed by powerful doors when not in operation
The heliostats direct the rays of the sun to the concentrator, and the concentrator of 10700 mirrors, in turn, multiplies them and reflects to one point (or rather, a meter-wide spot), and the light of ten thousand suns (this is how its brightness is estimated) is enough to get a temperature of about 3000 degrees Celsius within a few seconds (!). The solar furnace is not so much scientific, it's quite an industrial facility, and its main purpose was to obtain especially pure alloys for military and space technology. Alas, the solar furnace launched in 1987 operated for its main purpose only for a few years until the collapse of USSR. Now it is used purely for civil industry to get the most heat-resistant industrial ceramics such as fuses.
That's how the oven looks like in operation, and on weekdays this picture can be seen at least from the village. Take a note that the closed shutters of the furnace are slightly burned - although during non-operating hours the system is not concentrated, yet the concentrator reflects the light to some extent anyway that is enough at least for the paint to evaporate from the shutters.
the construction of concentrator
You can take a lift to the viewing platform
that opens a paoramic views to Chatkal range (far away on the left - Chirchik valley and Charvak)
Below is the building of The Institute of the Sun. Although the scale of works are now less impressive than it was supposed to be originally it is still operating. They develop and produce here ceramic elements for metallurgy and oil industry, small solar furnaces of 1500 watts (a large furnace, for comparison is of 1 megawatt) for metallurgical institutes in Egypt and India, infrared emitters, energy-saving dryers ... Still, all this work somehow does not fit with the power and complexity of this place, and most importantly - the "cosmic" feeling of this industrial object. The only analogue of the solar complex is the Odeillo solar furnace (1962-68) in the French Pyrenees, almost identical to the local one by all parameters (1 meter wider, 1 heliostat more, 1100 mirrors less) ... only its glass is better, and the "target" of the concentrator is more compact (40x40 cm), so they can get a higher temperature in the French furnace - up to 3,500 degrees. Another unique thing was in Crimea - an experimental solar thermal power plant, where numerous reflectors with their rays heated the boiler on the tower, but it was squandered in the 1990s.