Cosmic perspective: Can astronomy help tackle the climate crisis?

Cosmic perspective: Can astronomy help tackle the climate crisis?
Cosmic perspective: Can astronomy help tackle the climate crisis?

Africa-Press – Kenya. – Astronomers can help solving global challenges by providing a unique perspective on unique and precious Earth, says exoplanet expert Raphaelle Haywood
– Speaking to Anadolu, Haywood stresses importance of understanding universe to increase climate literacy, motivate care for planet
– Only celestial body that can support us is the one we evolved with, says astronomer who is utilizing astronomical observations to motivate individuals to take action against current environmental crisis

As the effects of climate change and environmental degradation become more pressing with each passing year, the plethora of solutions proposed to stave off disaster keeps expanding.

From the more conventional remedies of cutting back on carbon emissions and pollution to more experimental ideas like planetary geoengineering, scientists, policymakers, activists, and private business have been working to preserve conditions that help our species thrive on Earth.

But one proposition has turned heads as a particularly radical one: starting over on a new planet.

Beyond the catastrophic effects of climate change, colonizing other planets has also been touted as a solution to more violent dangers, such as an asteroid colliding with the Earth, unleashing a wave of destruction that could wipe out all but the most resilient life forms.

This has been one of the major aims of private space travel companies that have sprouted up in recent years. One prime example is SpaceX, whose owner Elon Musk, besides declaring that the company’s mission is to make humanity “multiplanetary,” has entertained ideas of geoengineering Mars to make it more habitable for humans.

But according to some experts, finding a new home for humanity among the stars will be much more difficult than the seemingly straightforward task would suggest.

For one thing, while we may take the conditions we enjoy on our planet for granted, they are a rarity on a cosmic scale.

“The more I looked at these other worlds, the more it made me realize actually that our own planet is really unique and really precious. Because it’s the only planet that we can live on,” Raphaelle Haywood, a senior lecturer in physics and astronomy at the University of Exeter in the UK, told Anadolu.

Haywood, whose research focuses on small and potentially terrestrial exoplanets, or planets that orbit stars other than our sun, said astronomers found the first such “extrasolar planet” just over 20 years ago, and since then, they have we found thousands of others.

Based on the recent discoveries in this new field of research, Haywood, in an essay published last year in Aeon magazine, said that the “only celestial body that can support us is the one we evolved with.”

According to her, this fact “gives fundamental context to the crises that we’re facing today,” and “gives us perspective and impetus to look after our only home” through collective action.

In this way, a cosmic perspective can help address environmental issues, she said.

Space-led technological progress and climate action

Haywood also emphasized that many technological advancements have come from “trying to push astronomy to the edge,” including the development of infrared and remote sensing technologies, currently used for monitoring our own planet.

She stressed that these technologies are crucial for understanding and responding to climate change and ecosystem disruption, as they provide global-level information.

Furthermore, she highlighted that astronomy serves as an entry point to science for many individuals who might not otherwise think about it.

“Astronomy is loved by everybody because it is fascinated thinking about the universe, stars and the galaxies and where are we and where have we come from,” Haywood said, noting that this can help increase climate literacy.

‘Our haven’

When discussing climate change on Earth, the focus is on the critical need to limit warming to 1.5 C. However, when scientists examine the range of temperatures on planets they’ve discovered, they find that this represents an extremely small and narrow range, Haywood noted.

“So we have no reason to expect that we’re going to find another planet that’s going to have the perfect temperature range and the perfect conditions on it,” she said.

Beyond simply considering the amount of heat they receive from their star, it is also crucial to take into account whether these planets possess atmospheres, oceans, and land, she explained.

The atmosphere on Earth, for example, serves as a “safety blanket,” Haywood said. “It keeps us warm, and it has the oxygen that we breathe.”

“They might have some land, however, quite often they’re molten lava, and they’re thousands of degrees hot and they have atmospheres that are full of methane or carbon dioxide which are toxic to us,” she said.

On some exoplanets, ferocious winds of thousands of kilometers per hour whip across the surface, while others face their stars constantly with the same face, resulting in perpetual day and nighttime.

“Earth is our haven,” says Haywood, arguing that while things are getting worse on the blue planet, they will never be as bad for human life as on other worlds.

“So, really, we need to look after our own planet,” she noted.

Source: Anadolu Ajansı

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