Astrobiology – the science we have lost.
But we really have actually lost an entire science called astrobiology and born in Kazakhstan. May 1 marks the 148th anniversary of the birth of the scientist who laid the foundation for this direction and name. Although not a round date, this is an occasion to remember Gavriil Adrianovich Tikhov, an academician, one of the founders of practical astrophysics, who began his creative activity even before the October Revolution. He and his teacher Aristarkh Apollonovich Belopolsky created the first textbook – the Pulkovo Course in Astrophysics, published in 1923. Tikhov wrote the part devoted to astrophotometry, and Belopolsky wrote the second part – on astrospectroscopy. At the Pulkovo Observatory, Tikhov was engaged in various studies of stars, the interstellar medium, and planets. He wrote the book “Sixty Years with a Telescope” about this. And in 1941, he and Academician Vasily Grigoryevich Fesenkov arrived in Alma-Ata to observe the total solar eclipse on September 21, 1941, and became not only the organizers of two astronomical observatories but also the founders of astronomical science in Kazakhstan.
Some information sources erroneously attribute Tikhov to work on the Kamenskoye Plateau, where the observatory and the building of the Astrophysical Institute, founded by VG Fesenkov and now bearing his name, are located. For the observatory, G.A. Tikhov was allocated a site near the meteorological station on the southern outskirts of Alma-Ata (then it was the outskirts). There they built a dome for an astrograph and a residential building for Tikhov, part of which he gave to laboratories for employees after organizing a new research institution of the Astrobotany Sector at the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of the Kazakh SSR. At the end of the 1940s, the Academy of Sciences was formed, headed by Kanysh Satpayev, who was attentive and caring toward the fundamental sciences and scientists.
Since the Pulkovo studies of Mars, Tikhov, like many other astronomers, was worried about the possibility of life on Mars and, most likely, plant life. The fact that the climate of Mars is much more severe than the Earth’s was already known, but it was necessary to answer whether plant organisms could adapt to it. Therefore, in Alma-Ata, Tikhov decided to tackle this problem, for which he gathered a team of biologists, physicists, and astronomers. The main direction of astrobotanical research was the study of the optical properties and characteristics of plants depending on climatic conditions. A small book by Tikhov, published in Moscow in 1959, was called Astrobiology. The first uttered term became the name of a new science dedicated to the search for life in the Universe. Now, this field of science is called all over the world, including the investigation and study of exoplanets, where conditions can be favorable for the existence of life.
Unfortunately, after the death of Tikhov, this direction did not receive support and continuation in our country. Neither the Observatory nor Tikhov’s house survived, which were first taken under state protection as a cultural monument, and then barbarously destroyed, apparently at the initiative of the Academy of Sciences …
The only place where the memory of astrophysics and the founder of astrobiology is still honored is at the Astrophysical Institute, although both the Tikhov archive and the telescope were taken to the Pulkovo Observatory. But forty years ago, our Institute ordered a large portrait of G.A. Tikhov, which is reproduced here and is now in the main building of the FAI.

And in the history of studies of planets and other solar system bodies conducted at our Institute, the fundamental works of G.A. Tikhov and V.G. Fesenkov are always mentioned.

The work of Tikhov and his colleagues in the Sector of Astrobotany attracted the attention of foreign researchers. Still, later, of course, the development of the science of life in the Universe moved to the West, where entire institutes of astrobiology appeared. In addition, the grandiose SETI program was launched to search for possible signals from extraterrestrial civilizations using the most powerful radio telescopes. The name of the founder of astrobiology somehow became a thing of the past, but nevertheless, in the materials of the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union, held in 2009, a report was published on Tikhov and the creation of astrobiology. And in October 2022, two American historians of science, Luis Campos and Ana Maria Gomez Lopez, came from the United States to the Astrophysical Institute to conduct research related to G.A. Tikhov and his work in Almaty. They wanted direct information about the history of astrobotany and astrobiology and Tikhov’s work. But more than 60 years have passed since then, and the only living witness of that time was only the head of the Laboratory of Physics of the Moon and Planets, Professor Viktor Germanovich Teifel, who began his research as a graduate student in the Sector of Astrobotany from 1955 to 1960.

The guests received all the information they were interested in, visited Tikhov’s grave, and visited the Tien-Shan Observatory of the Institute. This is an essential sign that interest in the history of the emergence of a new science born in Kazakhstan has not dried up. The only sad thing is that we have lost this area of science and are unlikely to be able to revive it. But the path to this would be possible if our observatory on the Assy-Turgen plateau received a 3.6-meter telescope planned for order, to which exoplanets could become accessible.