The impact of climate change on astronomical observations


A new article in Nature Astronomy outlines how climate change is affecting the quality of astronomical observations at the Very Large Telescope (VLT), a suite of four 8 m telescopes, run by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) at Cerro Paranal in Chile. The team, led by Faustine Cantalloube from MPIA Heidelberg and including STACY members Kira Rehfeld and Anna Sommani, showed that the VLT site experienced above-average warming in the last decades as well as an increase in near-surface turbulence, that might be due to the rise in temperature. Furthermore, when the temperature limit of the original cooling system for the telescope dome is crossed, internal optical turbulence is induced inside the dome. Both of these effects might degrade the quality of the astronomical observations. A further warming of more than 4 degrees C is expected by 2100, which should be taken into account for the construction of the 39 m Extremely Large Telescope on a nearby site, which will be the largest optical telescope in the world.

Image credit: J.L. Dauvergne & G. Hüdepohl (

Reference: Cantalloube, F., Milli, J., Böhm, C., Crewell, S., Navarrete, J., Rehfeld, K. Sarazin, M. and Sommani, A.: The impact of climate change on astronomical observations. Nat Astron 4, 826–829 (2020).

Springer Nature SharedIt (Public content-sharing link): here.