Long-term analysis of clear nights using satellite data considering astronomical sites in western China
A large ground-based optical/infrared telescope is being planned for a world-class astronomical site in China. The cloud-free night percentage is the primary meteorological consideration for evaluating candidate sites. The data from GMS and NOAA satellites and the MODIS instrument were utilized in this research, covering the period from 1996 to 2015. Our data analysis benefits from overlapping results from different independent teams as well as a uniform analysis of selected sites using GMS+NOAA data. Although significant ground-based monitoring is needed to validate these findings, we identify three different geographical regions with a high percentage of cloud-free conditions (~83% on average), which is slightly lower than at Mauna Kea and Cerro Armazones (~85% on average) and were chosen for the large international projects TMT and ELT respectively. Our study finds evidence that cloud distributions and the seasonal changes affected by the prevailing westerly winds and summer monsoons reduce the cloud cover in areas influenced by the westerlies. This is consistent with the expectations from climate change models and is suggestive that most of the identified sites will have reduced cloud cover in the future.