Astronomy research facilities contribute more to the space science sector’s carbon footprint than that of some small countries, according to a new study.

Source: Everyday Astronaut/Youtube

The study, published in the Nature Astronomy journal, found that active space and ground-based facilities emit at least 1.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. They estimated that active astronomical research facilities worldwide emit 20.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. This is the same amount of emissions as countries like Estonia, Croatia, or Bulgaria.

They even went on to divide the total emissions by the number of astronomers around the world, which found that each astronomer is responsible for 36 tonnes each year.

The largest facilities like NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and the intergovernmental radio telescope project Square Kilometer Array were each guilty of emitting at least 300,000 tonnes of the planet-warming gas, making them the largest emitters in the study.

However, other research facilities may have had more or less on any given year, depending on the projects they had at the time and other factors. Either way, these numbers are astonishing.

The study found that in recent years, activities such as flights, academic conferences, and running supercomputer simulations, were the biggest contributors to carbon emissions.

Source: Vox/Youtube

The study pointed out that there needs to be a slower-paced or more sustainable practice taken toward future space missions if we want to reach the Paris Agreement goals.

“Some of our colleagues are a bit shocked by this idea. What we really think is that these options must be on the table. The emergency we are facing is so big and clearly, we are playing a role in it with our work,” study co-author Luigi Tibaldo from CNRS told NPR.

Carbon emissions threaten wildlife, global warming, and even human existence. We need to move toward a sustainable and renewable future now more than ever. We need to take a slower approach to space studies and work towards more eco-friendly options instead of using the planet at our disposal whenever we please.

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