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How global warming affects astronomical observations

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How does global warming affect astronomical observations

VLT Laser Guide Star: A laser beam fired from the 8.2-meter Yepun Telescope (VLT) crosses the majestic southern sky and creates an artificial star 90 km high in Earth’s upper atmosphere. The Laser Guide Star (LGS) is part of the VLT adaptive optics system and is used as a reference to correct images from the effect of atmospheric blur. Credit: ESO/G. Hüdepohl (atacamaphoto.com)

The exact quality of terrestrial astronomical observations depends on the clarity of the atmosphere above the location from which they were made. Therefore, the locations of the telescopes are chosen very carefully. They are often high above sea level, so the atmosphere stands between them and their targets. Many telescopes are also built in deserts, where clouds and even water vapor impede a clear view of the night sky.

A team of researchers led by the University of Bern and the National Center for Competence in Research (NCCR) PlanetS demonstrated in a study published in the journal Astronomy and astrophysics At the Europlanet Science Conference 2022 in Granada, she presented how one of the major challenges of our time – anthropogenic climate change – is now affecting our view of the universe.

Blind spot in the selection process

“Although telescopes typically have a lifespan of several decades, site selection processes only consider atmospheric conditions over a short period of time. Typically over the past five years—too short to capture long-term trends, let alone changes futures caused by global warming, notes Caroline Haslebacher, the study’s lead author and a researcher at NCCR PlanetS at the University of Bern.

So the team of researchers from the University of Bern, NCCR PlanetS, ETH Zurich, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) as well as the University of Reading in the UK have taken it upon themselves to show the long-term perspective.

Deteriorating situation around the world

Their analysis of future climate trends, based on high-resolution global climate models, shows that major astronomical observatories from Hawaii to the Canary Islands, Chile, Mexico, South Africa and Australia will likely see an increase in temperature and water content in the atmosphere by 2050. This, in turn, could It means a loss of time control as well as a loss of quality in feedback.

“At present, astronomical observatories are designed to operate under current site conditions and have only a few possibilities for adaptation. The potential consequences of telescopes’ climatic conditions therefore include greater risks of condensation due to increased dew point or faulty cooling systems, which could lead to more of atmospheric turbulence in the telescope’s dome,” says Haslibacher.

The fact that the effects of climate change on observatories had not been taken into account before was not an oversight, says study co-author Mary Estelle Demore, but rather because of modeling limitations. “This is the first time that such a study has been possible. Thanks to the high accuracy of the global climate models developed through the Horizon 2020 Primavera project, we have been able to examine conditions in different locations in the world with great precision – something we have not been able to do with the models. These models are valuable tools for the work we do at the Wyss Academy,” says the chief scientist at the University of Bern and a member of the Wyss Academy of Nature.

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“This now allows us to say with certainty that anthropogenic climate change must be taken into account in site selection for next-generation telescopes, and in the construction and maintenance of astronomical facilities,” Haslibacher says.


Long-range liquid water also on non-Earth-like planets?


more information:
C. Haslebacher et al., Impact of climate change on site characteristics for eight major astronomical observatories using high-resolution global climate forecasts to 2050. The projected increase in temperature and humidity leads to poor astronomical observing conditions, Astronomy and astrophysics (2022). DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/202142493

Provided by the University of Bern

the quote: How Global Warming Affects Astronomical Observations (2022, September 22) Retrieved on September 23, 2022 from

This document is subject to copyright. Notwithstanding any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without written permission. The content is provided for informational purposes only.

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