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Alarmed by climate change, astronomers turn their sights to Earth

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Peter Kalmus is a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who began his career searching for gravitational waves in the universe.

“I started to feel very anxious because I wasn’t putting my talents into action to stop global warming,” said Dr. Kalmes, who emphasized that he spoke only for himself, not his employer. After several years studying astrophysics, he turned to cloud physics and later used climate models to study the risk of extreme heat. (Dr Kalmes has also become an outspoken climate activist and has been Arrested for his protest tactics.)

“I was still a little angry that policymakers weren’t doing enough to stop global warming, and I felt the need to leave astrophysics and become a climate scientist,” he said.


Telescopes must be built in high, dry locations away from urban light pollution, and are often built in fire-prone places such as mountaintops and forests. So it’s no surprise that a fire broke out in 2013 at Australia’s Siding Spring Observatory, a sister facility to Mount Stromlo and located in a national park in New South Wales.

By then, astronomers had learned some lessons. Employees are responsible for maintaining the grounds at Siding Spring and keeping vegetation away from the telescope dome. The flames destroyed some infrastructure, but much of the observatory survived.

“Bushfires are a normal part of life in Australia,” said Céline d’Orgeville, director of the Center for Advanced Instrumentation and Technology, a state-of-the-art facility that opened at Mount Stromlo three years after the 2003 disaster . “But in recent years, it’s clear that the frequency and severity of fires have increased significantly.”

2022, a wildfire Destroyed several buildings at Kitt Peak Observatory In Arizona. Fire isn’t the only danger: In 2020, Puerto Rico’s giant Arecibo telescope collapsed, in part due to repeated pressure from hurricanes, according to one agency. Forensic Investigations 2022 Commissioned by the National Science Foundation.

“People have become acutely aware that when they choose new locations, they actually have to take climate change into account,” Ms. d’Augeville said.

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