Many observatories are available in the world, but many of them are situated in areas of low elevations and with significant light pollution. These observatories typically could be used for observing planets in our Solar System and bright stars in the Milky Way.
To perform cutting edge research into cosmology, planetary science and astrophysics, researchers typically need to purchase remote access time on large telescopes located at high elevations in selected regions of the world, where there is a plateau for building the surrounding infrastructure of an observatory as well as the availability of low relative humidity and low light pollution conditions, conducive for making precise observations of faint objects in faraway galaxies.
Low relative humidity is important for reducing atmospheric distortion that could impact on observations of distant astronomical objects such as nebulae and supernovae, due in large part to the possibility that small water droplets high up in the atmosphere could act as microlenses that refract incoming light from faraway astronomical objects. Refraction and reflection would distort and reduce the detection accuracy of faint objects in the night sky.
On the other hand, few places on Earth could be without light pollution from cities and towns. But, at a few selected places on Earth such as the Atacama desert in Chile and mountains of Hawaii, light pollution is minimal, making the observatories there conducive for making breakthrough observations that redefine our understanding of black holes, neutron stars, exoplanets, and supernovae. With low light pollution, it is no coincidence that some of the upcoming large reflector telescopes of the world will continue to be built at these sites.
Collectively, good observations on Earth based telescopes require low light pollution to observe faint, distant objects in the night sky, as well as low relative humidity to reduce the distortion that our atmosphere brings to our observations of distant astronomical objects, where light refraction and reflection from water droplets reduce accuracy of distance estimation. Hence, many of the world’s largest reflectors are located at high elevations away from light pollution sources such as cities and towns, and due to its height, enjoys low distortion observations from a low relative humidity environment.
Category: astronomy, space exploration,
Tags: relative humidity, light pollution, observatories, telescopes, reflectors, reflection, refraction, distortion, distance estimation, faint astronomical objects,