This innovation is small, lightweight, and consumes very little electricity as it measures the solar energy attenuated by gases and aerosol particles in the atmosphere. A Sun photometer is commonly used on the Earth’s surface, as well as on aircraft, to determine the solar energy attenuated by aerosol particles in the atmosphere and their distribution of sizes. This information is used to determine the spatial and temporal distribution of gases and aerosols in the atmosphere, as well as their distribution sizes.

The design for this Sun photometer uses a combination of unique optics and a charge coupled device (CCD) array to eliminate moving parts and make the instrument more reliable. It could be self-calibrating throughout the year. Data products would be down-welling flux, the direct-diffuse flux ratio, column abundance of gas phase constituents, aerosol optical depth at multiple-wavelengths, phase functions, cloud statistics, and an estimate of the representative size of atmospheric particles. These measurements can be used to obtain an estimate of aerosol size distribution, refractive index, and particle shape.

Incident light is received at a light-reflecting (inner) surface, which is a truncated paraboloid. Light arriving from a hemispheric field of view (solid angle 2π steradians) enters the reflecting optic at an entrance aperture at, or adjacent to, the focus of the paraboloid, and is captured by the optic. Most of this light is reflected from an inner surface. The light proceeds substantially parallel to the paraboloid axis, and is detected by an array detector located near an exit aperture. Each of the entrance and exit apertures is formed by the intersection of the paraboloid with a plane substantially perpendicular to the paraboloid axis. Incident (nonreflected) light from a source of limited extent (the Sun) illuminates a limited area on the detector array. Both direct and diffuse illumination may be reflected, or not reflected, before being received on the detector array. As the Sun traverses a path in the sky over some time interval, the track of the Sun can be traced on the detector array.

A suitably modified Sun photometer might be used to study the dynamics of an environment on another planet or satellite with an atmosphere.

This work was done by Anthony W. Strawa of Ames Research Center. ARC-15443-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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