How does global warming affect astronomers?

image: Laser Guide Star VLT: A laser beam fired from the Yepun telescope with a length of 8.2 meters 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.
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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.

In a study published in the Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics and presented at the Europlanet Science 2022 conference in Granada, a team of researchers led by the University of Bern and the National Center for Competence in Research (NCCR) PlanetS showed how one of the major challenges of our time – anthropogenic climate change – is now affecting. Even our view of the universe.

Blind spot in the selection process

“Although telescopes usually have a lifespan of several decades, site selection processes take into account atmospheric conditions only over a short period of time. Caroline Haslibacher, lead author of the study and researcher at NCCR PlanetS at the University of Bern, notes that Typically over the past five years – too short to capture long-term trends, let alone future changes caused by global warming.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 took the It is their responsibility 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 few possibilities for adaptation. Hence the potential consequences of climatic conditions for telescopes include a greater risk of condensation due to increased dew point or malfunction of cooling systems, which could lead to further disturbances. weather 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 easy, says Marie Estelle Demore, co-author of the study, but not least because of the latest developments: “This is the first time that such a study has become possible. Thanks to the precision The high-level global climate models developed through the Horizon 2020 Primavera project have been able to examine conditions in different locations in the world with great accuracy – something we haven’t been able to do with conventional models.These models are valuable tools for the work we do at Wyss Academy ‘, says the chief scientist at the University of Bern and a member of the Wyss Academy of Nature.

“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.

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.

In a study published in the Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics and presented at the Europlanet Science 2022 conference in Granada, a team of researchers led by the University of Bern and the National Center for Competence in Research (NCCR) PlanetS showed how one of the major challenges of our time – anthropogenic climate change – is now affecting. Even our view of the universe.

Blind spot in the selection process

“Although telescopes usually have a lifespan of several decades, site selection processes take into account atmospheric conditions only over a short period of time. Caroline Haslibacher, lead author of the study and researcher at NCCR PlanetS at the University of Bern, notes that Typically over the past five years – too short to capture long-term trends, let alone future changes caused by global warming.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 took the It is their responsibility 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 few possibilities for adaptation. Hence the potential consequences of climatic conditions for telescopes include a greater risk of condensation due to increased dew point or malfunction of cooling systems, which could lead to further disturbances. weather 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 easy, says Marie Estelle Demore, co-author of the study, but not least because of the latest developments: “This is the first time that such a study has become possible. Thanks to the precision The high-level global climate models developed through the Horizon 2020 Primavera project have been able to examine conditions in different locations in the world with great accuracy – something we haven’t been able to do with conventional models.These models are valuable tools for the work we do at Wyss Academy ‘, says the chief scientist at the University of Bern and a member of the Wyss Academy of Nature.

“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.


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