Author(s): , , , ,
Institution(s): 1. Entoto Observatory and Research Centre, 2. INCA, 3. SAAO, 4. University of the Highlands and Islands
Two astronomical site testing initiatives are beginning in both Kenya and Ethiopia, with the aim of selecting suitable locations in those countries for modest sized (1-2m) optical telescopes.
The first project, in Kenya, has initially involved a desk-top study of ~30 years of low resolution (~80 km) meteorological satellite data from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (so called “ERA-reanalysis” data). This was later supplemented by ~2 years of higher resolution (~12 km) United Kingdom Met Office Limited Area Model for Africa (“Africa-LAM”) data, kindly made available by the British Atmospheric Data Centre (BADC).
The analysis looked at cloud cover, aerosol distribution, integrated water vapour and wind conditions, On the basis of this study, we determined a number of regions in the north of Kenya, east of the Rift Valley, which show promise as potential observatory sites. We are now in the process of installing Automatic Weather Stations (AWS) at 3 selected sites (~2000-2700 m altitude) to begin monitoring meteorological conditions over the next few years. It is eventually hoped to supplement this study with instrumentation to allow the measurement of sky brightness, local cloud cover and seeing (e.g. with a DIMM system).
A similar program of astronomical site testing is due to start in 2015 in the Lalibela region of northern Ethiopia, at three potential dark sky sites with expected relatively low cloud cover, ranging in altitude from ~3600 to 4100 m.