Annual CO2 emissions of 50 tons per astronomer: What if space science reduces its carbon footprint?

Un télescope l'Observatoire européen austral (ESO), dans le désert chilien de l'Atacama, en juin 2019

More on Space Travel “Green“Stargazing emits significant amounts of CO2 and when faced with a climate emergency, astronomers need to reduce the carbon footprint of their research infrastructure.” According to a controversial study.

This is the first time researchers have attempted to estimate the amount of greenhouse gases produced by 30,000 astronomers and their working instruments, including terrestrial radio telescopes, probes and rovers sent into space.

According to initial findings released Monday in Natural Astronomy, at least 20.3 million tons of CO2 have been produced from the operation of these instruments, the equivalent of Estonia’s or Croatia’s annual carbon footprint. This represents 20 to 50 tons of CO2 per year for an astronomer.

Almost “size”Five times as much“The study underscores the fact that astronomers travel for professional reasons, rather than those created by air travel.”The astronomical community is currently discussing traffic-related carbon footprint reduction and the function of supercomputers.“, Explains to AFP Jürgen Knödlseder, CNRS research director and lead author of the study.”That’s okay, except for not seeing the elephant in the room: the question of infrastructure“.

To estimate the size “ElephantThe researcher sifted through 50 space missions and 40 ground observation facilities, including Hubble telescopes, Max Planck, Insight exploration missions (Mars), and the Rosetta exploration (comet).Sauri“), The largest telescope (VLT) in Chile …

Ivory Tower

Construction materials, operating costs, and power consumption should be taken into account. Astronomy and astronomy in Toulouse.

To fill these gaps, his team used a method developed by Ademe (an environmental and energy management company) and the Carbon Reserve Association (ABC): the so-called cash ratio system, which is the ratio of carbon emissions of a process. Its cost and mass.

So, according to their calculations, the James Webb Space Telescope is worth $ 10 billion, and the giant radio telescope of the future. “Square kilometer lineIn South Africa and Australia, at least 300,000 tons is equivalent to CO2.

We need to think about reducing greenhouse gases from our infrastructure“, Says Jürgen Knödlseder. More”Everyone should do their part, including the astronomers who are not in the ivory towerAnnie Hughes of the Max Planck Institute, one of the authors of the study, commented at a press conference.

Slow down the machine

I know this would be shocking, but if we want to reduce emissions by almost 50% by 2030, we need to slow down the engine.“, His fellow astronomer Luigi Dipaldo said abundantly.

As with any activity, astronomy has a significant carbon footprint, so our challenge is to slow down the construction of infrastructure while continuing the search for the best.“Eric Lagadech, president of the French Astronomical Society, did not participate in the study.

But this method is highly controversial: estimates by monetary rates create a high level of uncertainty (up to 80%), which is “Undermines the reliability of the results“, Writes Andrew Rose Wilson in a comment published on the sidelines of the study.

Without details of what an installation uses, they + randomly + calculated“Francois Combs, an astronomer at the Paris-PSL laboratory, is amazed at his role. He also denies the fact that the total cost is calculated by the number of astronomers:”If you create a lab, it’s for science, it benefits millions of people! It’s like dividing the cost of an opera by the number of people who go to it“, The scientist commented.

The method is debatable, but the approach is a first step that deserves to lead to repercussions“, Concludes Eric Lagadek.

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