Solar irradiance

Solar irradiance (SI) is the power per unit area (watt per square metre, W/m2), received from the Sun in the form of electromagnetic radiation as reported in the wavelength range of the measuring instrument. Solar irradiance is often integrated over a given time period in order to report the radiant energy emitted into the surrounding environment (joule per square metre, J/m2), during that time period. This integrated solar irradiance is called solar irradiation, solar exposure, solar insolation, or insolation.

Irradiance may be measured in space or at the Earth's surface after atmospheric absorption and scattering. Irradiance in space is a function of distance from the Sun, the solar cycle, and cross-cycle changes.[1] Irradiance on the Earth's surface additionally depends on the tilt of the measuring surface, the height of the sun above the horizon, and atmospheric conditions.[2] Solar irradiance affects plant metabolism and animal behavior.[3]

The study and measurement of solar irradiance have several important applications, including the prediction of energy generation from solar power plants, the heating and cooling loads of buildings, and in climate modeling and weather forecasting.

The shield effect of Earth's atmosphere on solar irradiation. The top image is the annual mean solar irradiation (or insolation) at the top of Earth's atmosphere (TOA); the bottom image shows the annual insolation reaching the Earth's surface after passing through the atmosphere. Note that the two images use the same color scale.


Global Map of Global Horizontal Radiation
Global Map of Global Horizontal Radiation [4]
Global Map of Direct Normal Radiation 01
Global Map of Direct Normal Radiation [4]

There are several measured types of solar irradiance.

  • Total Solar Irradiance (TSI) is a measure of the solar power over all wavelengths per unit area incident on the Earth's upper atmosphere. It is measured perpendicular to the incoming sunlight.[2] The solar constant is a conventional measure of mean TSI at a distance of one astronomical unit (AU).
  • Direct Normal Irradiance (DNI), or beam radiation, is measured at the surface of the Earth at a given location with a surface element perpendicular to the Sun.[5] It excludes diffuse solar radiation (radiation that is scattered or reflected by atmospheric components). Direct irradiance is equal to the extraterrestrial irradiance above the atmosphere minus the atmospheric losses due to absorption and scattering. Losses depend on time of day (length of light's path through the atmosphere depending on the solar elevation angle), cloud cover, moisture content and other contents. The irradiance above the atmosphere also varies with time of year (because the distance to the sun varies), although this effect is generally less significant compared to the effect of losses on DNI.
  • Diffuse Horizontal Irradiance (DHI), or Diffuse Sky Radiation is the radiation at the Earth's surface from light scattered by the atmosphere. It is measured on a horizontal surface with radiation coming from all points in the sky excluding circumsolar radiation (radiation coming from the sun disk).[5][6] There would be almost no DHI in the absence of atmosphere.[5]
  • Global Horizontal Irradiance (GHI) is the total irradiance from the sun on a horizontal surface on Earth. It is the sum of direct irradiance (after accounting for the solar zenith angle of the sun z) and diffuse horizontal irradiance:[7]


The SI unit of irradiance is watt per square metre (W/m2, which may also be written Wm−2).

An alternative unit of measure is the Langley (1 thermochemical calorie per square centimeter or 41,840 J/m2) per unit time.

The solar energy industry uses watt-hour per square metre (Wh/m2) per unit time. The relation to the SI unit is thus:

1 kW/m2 = (24 h/day)× (1 kW/m2) = (24 kWh/m2)/day = (365 day/year)×(24 kWh/m2)/day = (8760 kWh/m2)/year.

Irradiation at the top of the atmosphere

Spherical triangle for application of the spherical law of cosines for the calculation the solar zenith angle Θ for observer at latitude φ and longitude λ from knowledge of the hour angle h and solar declination δ. (δ is latitude of subsolar point, and h is relative longitude of subsolar point).

The distribution of solar radiation at the top of the atmosphere is determined by Earth's sphericity and orbital parameters. This applies to any unidirectional beam incident to a rotating sphere. Insolation is essential for numerical weather prediction and understanding seasons and climate change. Application to ice ages is known as Milankovitch cycles.

Distribution is based on a fundamental identity from spherical trigonometry, the spherical law of cosines:

where a, b and c are arc lengths, in radians, of the sides of a spherical triangle. C is the angle in the vertex opposite the side which has arc length c. Applied to the calculation of solar zenith angle Θ, the following applies to the spherical law of cosines:

This equation can be also derived from a more general formula:[8]

where β is an angle from the horizontal and γ is an azimuth angle.

, the theoretical daily-average irradiation at the top of the atmosphere, where θ is the polar angle of the Earth's orbit, and θ = 0 at the vernal equinox, and θ = 90° at the summer solstice; φ is the latitude of the Earth. The calculation assumed conditions appropriate for 2000 A.D.: a solar constant of S0 = 1367 W m−2, obliquity of ε = 23.4398°, longitude of perihelion of ϖ = 282.895°, eccentricity e = 0.016704. Contour labels (green) are in units of W m−2.

The separation of Earth from the sun can be denoted RE and the mean distance can be denoted R0, approximately 1 astronomical unit (AU). The solar constant is denoted S0. The solar flux density (insolation) onto a plane tangent to the sphere of the Earth, but above the bulk of the atmosphere (elevation 100 km or greater) is:

The average of Q over a day is the average of Q over one rotation, or the hour angle progressing from h = π to h = −π:

Let h0 be the hour angle when Q becomes positive. This could occur at sunrise when , or for h0 as a solution of


If tan(φ)tan(δ) > 1, then the sun does not set and the sun is already risen at h = π, so ho = π. If tan(φ)tan(δ) < −1, the sun does not rise and .

is nearly constant over the course of a day, and can be taken outside the integral


Let θ be the conventional polar angle describing a planetary orbit. Let θ = 0 at the vernal equinox. The declination δ as a function of orbital position is[9][10]

where ε is the obliquity. The conventional longitude of perihelion ϖ is defined relative to the vernal equinox, so for the elliptical orbit:


With knowledge of ϖ, ε and e from astrodynamical calculations[11] and So from a consensus of observations or theory, can be calculated for any latitude φ and θ. Because of the elliptical orbit, and as a consequence of Kepler's second law, θ does not progress uniformly with time. Nevertheless, θ = 0° is exactly the time of the vernal equinox, θ = 90° is exactly the time of the summer solstice, θ = 180° is exactly the time of the autumnal equinox and θ = 270° is exactly the time of the winter solstice.

A simplified equation for irradiance on a given day is:[12]

where n is a number of a day of the year.


Total solar irradiance (TSI)[13] changes slowly on decadal and longer timescales. The variation during solar cycle 21 was about 0.1% (peak-to-peak).[14] In contrast to older reconstructions,[15] most recent TSI reconstructions point to an increase of only about 0.05% to 0.1% between the Maunder Minimum and the present.[16][17][18] Ultraviolet irradiance (EUV) varies by approximately 1.5 percent from solar maxima to minima, for 200 to 300 nm wavelengths.[19] However, a proxy study estimated that UV has increased by 3.0% since the Maunder Minimum.[20]

Milankovitch Variations
Variations in Earth's orbit, resulting changes in solar energy flux at high latitude, and the observed glacial cycles.

Some variations in insolation are not due to solar changes but rather due to the Earth moving between its perihelion and aphelion, or changes in the latitudinal distribution of radiation. These orbital changes or Milankovitch cycles have caused radiance variations of as much as 25% (locally; global average changes are much smaller) over long periods. The most recent significant event was an axial tilt of 24° during boreal summer near the Holocene climatic optimum. Obtaining a time series for a for a particular time of year, and particular latitude, is a useful application in the theory of Milankovitch cycles. For example, at the summer solstice, the declination δ is equal to the obliquity ε. The distance from the sun is

For this summer solstice calculation, the role of the elliptical orbit is entirely contained within the important product , the precession index, whose variation dominates the variations in insolation at 65° N when eccentricity is large. For the next 100,000 years, with variations in eccentricity being relatively small, variations in obliquity dominate.


The space-based TSI record comprises measurements from more than ten radiometers spanning three solar cycles. All modern TSI satellite instruments employ active cavity electrical substitution radiometry. This technique applies measured electrical heating to maintain an absorptive blackened cavity in thermal equilibrium while incident sunlight passes through a precision aperture of calibrated area. The aperture is modulated via a shutter. Accuracy uncertainties of <0.01% are required to detect long term solar irradiance variations, because expected changes are in the range 0.05 to 0.15 W/m2 per century.[21]

Intertemporal calibration

In orbit, radiometric calibrations drift for reasons including solar degradation of the cavity, electronic degradation of the heater, surface degradation of the precision aperture and varying surface emissions and temperatures that alter thermal backgrounds. These calibrations require compensation to preserve consistent measurements.[21]

For various reasons, the sources do not always agree. The Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment/Total Irradiance Measurement (SORCE/TIM) TSI values are lower than prior measurements by the Earth Radiometer Budget Experiment (ERBE) on the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite (ERBS), VIRGO on the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SoHO) and the ACRIM instruments on the Solar Maximum Mission (SMM), Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) and ACRIMSat. Pre-launch ground calibrations relied on component rather than system level measurements, since irradiance standards lacked absolute accuracies.[21]

Measurement stability involves exposing different radiometer cavities to different accumulations of solar radiation to quantify exposure-dependent degradation effects. These effects are then compensated for in final data. Observation overlaps permits corrections for both absolute offsets and validation of instrumental drifts.[21]

Uncertainties of individual observations exceed irradiance variability (∼0.1%). Thus, instrument stability and measurement continuity are relied upon to compute real variations.

Long-term radiometer drifts can be mistaken for irradiance variations that can be misinterpreted as affecting climate. Examples include the issue of the irradiance increase between cycle minima in 1986 and 1996, evident only in the ACRIM composite (and not the model) and the low irradiance levels in the PMOD composite during the 2008 minimum.

Despite the fact that ACRIM I, ACRIM II, ACRIM III, VIRGO and TIM all track degradation with redundant cavities, notable and unexplained differences remain in irradiance and the modeled influences of sunspots and faculae.

Persistent inconsistencies

Disagreement among overlapping observations indicates unresolved drifts that suggest the TSI record is not sufficiently stable to discern solar changes on decadal time scales. Only the ACRIM composite shows irradiance increasing by ∼1 W/m2 between 1986 and 1996; this change is also absent in the model.[21]

Recommendations to resolve the instrument discrepancies include validating optical measurement accuracy by comparing ground-based instruments to laboratory references, such as those at National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST); NIST validation of aperture area calibrations uses spares from each instrument; and applying diffraction corrections from the view-limiting aperture.[21]

For ACRIM, NIST determined that diffraction from the view-limiting aperture contributes a 0.13% signal not accounted for in the three ACRIM instruments. This correction lowers the reported ACRIM values, bringing ACRIM closer to TIM. In ACRIM and all other instruments but TIM, the aperture is deep inside the instrument, with a larger view-limiting aperture at the front. Depending on edge imperfections this can directly scatter light into the cavity. This design admits into the front part of the instrument two to three times the amount of light intended to be measured; if not completely absorbed or scattered, this additional light produces erroneously high signals. In contrast, TIM's design places the precision aperture at the front so that only desired light enters.[21]

Variations from other sources likely include an annual cycle that is nearly in phase with the Sun-Earth distance in ACRIM III data and 90-day spikes in the VIRGO data coincident with SoHO spacecraft maneuvers that were most apparent during the 2008 solar minimum.

TSI Radiometer Facility

TIM's high absolute accuracy creates new opportunities for measuring climate variables. TSI Radiometer Facility (TRF) is a cryogenic radiometer that operates in a vacuum with controlled light sources. L-1 Standards and Technology (LASP) designed and built the system, completed in 2008. It was calibrated for optical power against the NIST Primary Optical Watt Radiometer, a cryogenic radiometer that maintains the NIST radiant power scale to an uncertainty of 0.02% (1σ). As of 2011 TRF was the only facility that approached the desired <0.01% uncertainty for pre-launch validation of solar radiometers measuring irradiance (rather than merely optical power) at solar power levels and under vacuum conditions.[21]

TRF encloses both the reference radiometer and the instrument under test in a common vacuum system that contains a stationary, spatially uniform illuminating beam. A precision aperture with area calibrated to 0.0031% (1σ) determines the beam's measured portion. The test instrument's precision aperture is positioned in the same location, without optically altering the beam, for direct comparison to the reference. Variable beam power provides linearity diagnostics, and variable beam diameter diagnoses scattering from different instrument components.[21]

The Glory/TIM and PICARD/PREMOS flight instrument absolute scales are now traceable to the TRF in both optical power and irradiance. The resulting high accuracy reduces the consequences of any future gap in the solar irradiance record.[21]

Difference Relative to TRF[21]
Instrument Irradiance: View-Limiting Aperture Overfilled Irradiance: Precision Aperture Overfilled Difference Attributable To Scatter Error Measured Optical Power Error Residual Irradiance Agreement Uncertainty
SORCE/TIM ground NA −0.037% NA −0.037% 0.000% 0.032%
Glory/TIM flight NA −0.012% NA −0.029% 0.017% 0.020%
PREMOS-1 ground −0.005% −0.104% 0.098% −0.049% −0.104% ∼0.038%
PREMOS-3 flight 0.642% 0.605% 0.037% 0.631% −0.026% ∼0.027%
VIRGO-2 ground 0.897% 0.743% 0.154% 0.730% 0.013% ∼0.025%

2011 reassessment

The most probable value of TSI representative of solar minimum is 1360.9 ± 0.5 W/m2, lower than the earlier accepted value of 1365.4 ± 1.3 W/m2, established in the 1990s. The new value came from SORCE/TIM and radiometric laboratory tests. Scattered light is a primary cause of the higher irradiance values measured by earlier satellites in which the precision aperture is located behind a larger, view-limiting aperture. The TIM uses a view-limiting aperture that is smaller than precision aperture that precludes this spurious signal. The new estimate is from better measurement rather than a change in solar output.[21]

A regression model-based split of the relative proportion of sunspot and facular influences from SORCE/TIM data accounts for 92% of observed variance and tracks the observed trends to within TIM's stability band. This agreement provides further evidence that TSI variations are primarily due to solar surface magnetic activity.[21]

Instrument inaccuracies add a significant uncertainty in determining Earth's energy balance. The energy imbalance has been variously measured (during a deep solar minimum of 2005–2010) to be +0.58 ± 0.15 W/m²),[22] +0.60 ± 0.17 W/m²[23] and +0.85 W/m2. Estimates from space-based measurements range from +3 to 7 W/m2. SORCE/TIM's lower TSI value reduces this discrepancy by 1 W/m2. This difference between the new lower TIM value and earlier TSI measurements corresponds to a climate forcing of −0.8 W/m2, which is comparable to the energy imbalance.[21]

2014 reassessment

In 2014 a new ACRIM composite was developed using the updated ACRIM3 record. It added corrections for scattering and diffraction revealed during recent testing at TRF and two algorithm updates. The algorithm updates more accurately account for instrument thermal behavior and parsing of shutter cycle data. These corrected a component of the quasi-annual signal and increased the signal to noise ratio, respectively. The net effect of these corrections decreased the average ACRIM3 TSI value without affecting the trending in the ACRIM Composite TSI.[24]

Differences between ACRIM and PMOD TSI composites are evident, but the most significant is the solar minimum-to-minimum trends during solar cycles 21-23. ACRIM found an increase of +0.037%/decade from 1980 to 2000 and a decrease thereafter. PMOD instead presents a steady decrease since 1978. Significant differences can also be seen during the peak of solar cycles 21 and 22. These arise from the fact that ACRIM uses the original TSI results published by the satellite experiment teams while PMOD significantly modifies some results to conform them to specific TSI proxy models. The implications of increasing TSI during the global warming of the last two decades of the 20th century are that solar forcing may be a marginally larger factor in climate change than represented in the CMIP5 general circulation climate models.[24]

Irradiance on Earth's surface

SR20 pyranometer 1
A pyranometer, used to measure global irradiance
DR01 pyrheliometer 1
A pyrheliometer, mounted on a solar tracker, is used to measure Direct Normal Irradiance (or beam irradiance)

Average annual solar radiation arriving at the top of the Earth's atmosphere is roughly 1361 W/m2.[25] The Sun's rays are attenuated as they pass through the atmosphere, leaving maximum normal surface irradiance at approximately 1000 W /m2 at sea level on a clear day. When 1361 W/m2 is arriving above the atmosphere (when the sun is at the zenith in a cloudless sky), direct sun is about 1050 W/m2, and global radiation on a horizontal surface at ground level is about 1120 W/m2.[26] The latter figure includes radiation scattered or reemitted by atmosphere and surroundings. The actual figure varies with the Sun's angle and atmospheric circumstances. Ignoring clouds, the daily average insolation for the Earth is approximately 6 kWh/m2 = 21.6 MJ/m2.

The output of, for example, a photovoltaic panel, partly depends on the angle of the sun relative to the panel. One Sun is a unit of power flux, not a standard value for actual insolation. Sometimes this unit is referred to as a Sol, not to be confused with a sol, meaning one solar day.[27]

Absorption and reflection

Solar irradiance spectrum above atmosphere and at surface

Part of the radiation reaching an object is absorbed and the remainder reflected. Usually the absorbed radiation is converted to thermal energy, increasing the object's temperature. Manmade or natural systems, however, can convert part of the absorbed radiation into another form such as electricity or chemical bonds, as in the case of photovoltaic cells or plants. The proportion of reflected radiation is the object's reflectivity or albedo.

Projection effect

Projection effect: One sunbeam one mile wide shines on the ground at a 90° angle, and another at a 30° angle. The oblique sunbeam distributes its light energy over twice as much area.

Insolation onto a surface is largest when the surface directly faces (is normal to) the sun. As the angle between the surface and the Sun moves from normal, the insolation is reduced in proportion to the angle's cosine; see effect of sun angle on climate.

In the figure, the angle shown is between the ground and the sunbeam rather than between the vertical direction and the sunbeam; hence the sine rather than the cosine is appropriate. A sunbeam one mile (1.6 km) wide arrives from directly overhead, and another at a 30° angle to the horizontal. The sine of a 30° angle is 1/2, whereas the sine of a 90° angle is 1. Therefore, the angled sunbeam spreads the light over twice the area. Consequently, half as much light falls on each square mile.

This 'projection effect' is the main reason why Earth's polar regions are much colder than equatorial regions. On an annual average the poles receive less insolation than does the equator, because the poles are always angled more away from the sun than the tropics, and moreover receive no insolation at all for the six months of their respective winters.

Absorption effect

At a lower angle the light must also travel through more atmosphere. This attenuates it (by absorption and scattering) further reducing insolation at the surface.

Attenuation is governed by the Beer-Lambert Law, namely that the transmittance or fraction of insolation reaching the surface decreases exponentially in the optical depth or absorbance (the two notions differing only by a constant factor of ln(10) = 2.303) of the path of insolation through the atmosphere. For any given short length of the path the optical depth is proportional to the quantity of absorbers and scatterers along that length, typically increasing with decreasing altitude. The optical depth of the whole path is then the integral (sum) of those optical depths along the path.

When the density of absorbers is layered, that is, depends much more on vertical than horizontal position in the atmosphere, to a good approximation the optical depth is inversely proportional to the projection effect, that is, to the cosine of the zenith angle. Since transmittance decreases exponentially with increasing optical depth, as the sun approaches the horizon there comes a point when absorption dominates projection for the rest of the day. With a relatively high level of absorbers this can be a considerable portion of the late afternoon, and likewise of the early morning. Conversely in the (hypothetical) total absence of absorption the optical depth remains zero at all altitudes of the sun, that is, transmittance remains 1, and so only the projection effect applies.

Solar potential maps

Assessment and mapping of solar potential at the global, regional and country levels has been the subject of significant academic and commercial interest. One of the earliest attempts to carry out comprehensive mapping of solar potential for individual countries was the Solar & Wind Resource Assessment (SWERA) project,[28] funded by the United Nations Environment Program and carried out by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Other examples include global mapping by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and other similar institutes, many of which are available on the Global Atlas for Renewable Energy provided by the International Renewable Energy Agency. A number of commercial firms now exist to provide solar resource data to solar power developers, including 3E, Clean Power Research, Solargis, Vaisala (previously 3Tier), and Vortex, and these firms have often provided solar potential maps for free. In January 2017 the Global Solar Atlas[4] was launched by the World Bank, using data provided by Solargis, to provide a single source for high quality solar data, maps, and GIS layers covering all countries.

Sub-Saharan-Africa GHI mid-size-map 156x192mm-300dpi v20170928

Sub-Saharan Africa

Latin-America-and-Caribbean GHI mid-size-map 156x188mm-300dpi v20170928

Latin America and Caribbean

China GHI mid-size-map 156x152mm-300dpi v20170926


India GHI mid-size-map 156x194mm-300dpi v20170925


Mexico GHI mid-size-map 156x143mm-300dpi v20170921


Morocco GHI mid-size-map 156x170mm-300dpi v20170921


South-Africa GHI mid-size-map 156x161mm-300dpi v20170925

South Africa


Conversion factor (multiply top row by factor to obtain side column)
W/m2 kW·h/(m2·day) sun hours/day kWh/(m2·y) kWh/(kWp·y)
W/m2 1 41.66666 41.66666 0.1140796 0.1521061
kW·h/(m2·day) 0.024 1 1 0.0027379 0.0036505
sun hours/day 0.024 1 1 0.0027379 0.0036505
kWh/(m2·y) 8.765813 365.2422 365.2422 1 1.333333
kWh/(kWp·y) 6.574360 273.9316 273.9316 0.75 1

Solar power

Solar energy
Sunlight carries radiant energy in the wavelengths of visible light. Radiant energy may be developed for solar power generation.

Solar irradiation figures are used to plan the deployment of solar power systems.[29] In many countries the figures can be obtained from an insolation map or from insolation tables that reflect data over the prior 30–50 years. Different solar power technologies are able to use different component of the total irradiation. While solar photovoltaics panels are able to convert to electricity both direct irradiation and diffuse irradiation, concentrated solar power is only able to operate efficiently with direct irradiation, thus making these systems suitable only in locations with relatively low cloud cover.

Because solar collectors panels are almost always mounted at an angle[30] towards the sun, insolation must be adjusted to prevent estimates that are inaccurately low for winter and inaccurately high for summer.[31] This also means that the amount of sun falling on a solar panel at high latitude is not as low compared to one at the equator as would appear from just considering insolation on a horizontal surface.

Photovoltaic panels are rated under standard conditions to determine the Wp (watt peak) rating, [32] which can then be used with insolation to determine the expected output, adjusted by factors such as tilt, tracking and shading (which can be included to create the installed Wp rating).[33] Insolation values range from 800 to 950 kWh/(kWp·y) in Norway to up to 2,900 kWh/(kWp·y) in Australia.


In construction, insolation is an important consideration when designing a building for a particular site.[34]

Insolation variation by month; 1984–1993 averages for January (top) and April (bottom)

The projection effect can be used to design buildings that are cool in summer and warm in winter, by providing vertical windows on the equator-facing side of the building (the south face in the northern hemisphere, or the north face in the southern hemisphere): this maximizes insolation in the winter months when the Sun is low in the sky and minimizes it in the summer when the Sun is high. (The Sun's north/south path through the sky spans 47 degrees through the year).

Civil engineering

In civil engineering and hydrology, numerical models of snowmelt runoff use observations of insolation. This permits estimation of the rate at which water is released from a melting snowpack. Field measurement is accomplished using a pyranometer.

Climate research

Irradiance plays a part in climate modeling and weather forecasting. A non-zero average global net radiation at the top of the atmosphere is indicative of Earth's thermal disequilibrium as imposed by climate forcing.

The impact of the lower 2014 TSI value on climate models is unknown. A few tenths of a percent change in the absolute TSI level is typically considered to be of minimal consequence for climate simulations. The new measurements require climate model parameter adjustments.

Experiments with GISS Model 3 investigated the sensitivity of model performance to the TSI absolute value during present and pre-industrial epochs, and describe, for example, how the irradiance reduction is partitioned between the atmosphere and surface and the effects on outgoing radiation.[21]

Assessing the impact of long-term irradiance changes on climate requires greater instrument stability[21] combined with reliable global surface temperature observations to quantify climate response processes to radiative forcing on decadal time scales. The observed 0.1% irradiance increase imparts 0.22 W/m2 climate forcing, which suggests a transient climate response of 0.6 °C per W/m2. This response is larger by a factor of 2 or more than in the IPCC-assessed 2008 models, possibly appearing in the models' heat uptake by the ocean.[21]

Space travel

Insolation is the primary variable affecting equilibrium temperature in spacecraft design and planetology.

Solar activity and irradiance measurement is a concern for space travel. For example, the American space agency, NASA, launched its Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment (SORCE) satellite with Solar Irradiance Monitors.[1]

See also


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  3. ^ C.Michael Hogan. 2010. Abiotic factor. Encyclopedia of Earth. eds Emily Monosson and C. Cleveland. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC
  4. ^ a b c World Bank. 2017. Global Solar Atlas.
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  15. ^ Board on Global Change, Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources, National Research Council. (1994). Solar Influences on Global Change. Washington, D.C: National Academy Press. p. 36. doi:10.17226/4778. hdl:2060/19950005971. ISBN 978-0-309-05148-4.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
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General references

External links


The Active Cavity Radiometer Irradiance Monitor Satellite, or ACRIMSAT is a defunct satellite and instrument that was one of the 21 observational components of NASA's Earth Observing System program. The instrument followed upon the ACRIM1 and ACRIM2 instruments that were also launched on multi-instrument satellite platforms. ACRIMSAT was launched on 20 December 1999 from Vandenberg Air Force Base as the secondary payload on the Taurus rocket that launched KOMPSAT. It was placed into a high inclination, 700 km. sun-synchronous orbit from which the ACRIM3 instrument monitored total solar irradiance (TSI). Contact with the satellite was lost on 14 December 2013.

Active cavity radiometer

Active cavity radiometer - electrically self-calibrating, cavity pyrheliometer used to measure total and spectral solar irradiance.

Balance of system

The balance of system (BOS) encompasses all components of a photovoltaic system other than the photovoltaic panels. This includes wiring, switches, a mounting system, one or many solar inverters, a battery bank and battery charger.

Other optional components include renewable energy credit revenue-grade meter, maximum power point tracker (MPPT), GPS solar tracker, Energy management software, solar concentrators, solar irradiance sensors, anemometer, or task-specific accessories designed to meet specialized requirements for a system owner. In addition, CPV systems require optical lenses or mirrors and sometimes a cooling system.

In addition, ground-mounted, large photovoltaic power station require equipment and facilities, such as grid connections, office facilities, and concrete. Land is sometimes included as part of the BOS as well.

Direct insolation

Direct insolation is the solar insolation measured at a given location on Earth with a surface element perpendicular to the Sun's rays, excluding diffuse insolation (the solar radiation that is scattered or reflected by atmospheric components in the sky). Direct insolation is equal to the solar irradiance above the atmosphere minus the atmospheric losses due to absorption and scattering. While the solar irradiance above the atmosphere varies with the Earth-Sun distance and solar cycles, the losses depend on the time of day (length of light's path through the atmosphere depending on the Solar elevation angle), cloud cover, moisture content, and other impurities.

Glory (satellite)

The Glory satellite was a planned NASA satellite mission that would have collected data on the chemical, micro-physical and optical properties—and the spatial and temporal distributions—of sulfate and other aerosols, and would have collected solar irradiance data for the long-term climate record. The science focus areas served by Glory included: atmospheric composition; carbon cycle, ecosystems, and biogeochemistry; climate variability and change; and water and energy cycles. The US$424 million satellite was lost on March 4, 2011, when its Taurus XL carrier rocket malfunctioned. A subsequent investigation revealed that the fairing system failed to open fully, causing the satellite to reenter the atmosphere at which point it likely broke up and burned. NASA investigators later determined the cause for the launch failure to be faulty materials provided by aluminum manufacturer Sapa Profiles.


LYRA (Lyman Alpha Radiometer) is the solar UV radiometer on board Proba-2, a European Space Agency technology demonstration satellite that was launched on November 2, 2009.LYRA has been designed and manufactured by a Belgian-Swiss-German consortium (ROB-SIDC, PMOD/WRC, IMOMEC, CSL, MPS and BISA) with additional international collaborations (Japan, USA, Russia, and France). Jean-François Hochedez (ROB) is Principal Investigator, Yves Stockman (CSL) is Project Manager, and Werner Schmutz (PMOD) is Lead co-Investigator.

LYRA will monitor the Solar irradiance in four UV passbands. They have been chosen for their relevance to solar physics, aeronomy and Space Weather:

the 115-125 nm Lyman-α channel,

the 200-220 nm Herzberg continuum channel,

the Aluminium filter channel (17-50 nm) including He II at 30.4 nm, and

the Zirconium filter channel (1-20 nm).The Radiometric calibration of the instrument is traceable to Synchrotron source standards, Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Its stability will be monitored by onboard calibration light sources (light-emitting diodes), which allow distinguishing between potential degradations of the detectors and filters. Additionally, a redundancy strategy contributes to the accuracy and the stability of the measurements. LYRA will benefit from wide bandgap detectors based on diamond: it will be the first space assessment of a pioneering UV detectors program. Diamond sensors make the instruments radiation-hard and solar-blind: their high bandgap energy makes them quasi-insensitive to visible light (see also references in Marchywka Effect). The SWAP extreme ultraviolet (EUV) imaging telescope will operate next to LYRA on Proba-2. Together, they will establish a high performance solar monitor for operational space weather nowcasting and research. LYRA demonstrates technologies important for future missions such as the ESA Solar Orbiter mission.

List of articles related to the Sun

Articles related to the Sun include:


Solar wind

Coronal mass ejection

Solar eclipse

total eclipse

annular eclipse

hybrid eclipse

partial eclipse

Magnitude of eclipse

Saros (astronomy)

Sunspot, where most solar flares and coronal mass ejections originate

Wolf number, counts sunspots

Maunder Minimum, the period roughly spanning 1645 to 1715 when sunspots became exceedingly rare

Solar flare

Solar cycle, periodic change in the amount of irradiation from the Sun that is experienced on Earth

List of solar cycles

Solar maximum - large numbers of sunspots appear

Solar minimum - sunspot and solar flare activity diminishes

Homeric Minimum

Dalton Minimum, lasting from about 1790 to 1830

Modern Maximum, period of relatively high solar activity that began circa 1900

Solar variation, change in the amount of solar radiation emitted

Solar System

Solar and celestial effects on climate (Earth's climate, that is)

Picard (satellite)

PICARD is a satellite dedicated to the simultaneous measurement of the absolute total and spectral solar irradiance, the diameter and solar shape, and to the Sun's interior probing by the helioseismology method. These measurements obtained throughout the mission allow study of their variations as a function of solar activity. It launched, along with the Prisma spacecraft, on 15 June 2010 on a Dnepr launcher from Dombarovskiy Cosmodrome, near Yasny, Russia. The mission, originally planned for two years, ended on 4 April 2014.


A pyranometer is a type of actinometer used for measuring solar irradiance on a planar surface and it is designed to measure the solar radiation flux density (W/m2) from the hemisphere above within a wavelength range 0.3 μm to 3 μm. The name pyranometer stems from the Greek words πῦρ (pyr), meaning "fire", and ἄνω (ano), meaning "above, sky".

A typical pyranometer does not require any power to operate. However, recent technical development includes use of electronics in pyranometers, which do require (low) external power.


A pyrheliometer is an instrument for measurement of direct beam solar irradiance. Sunlight enters the instrument through a

window and is directed onto a thermopile which converts heat to an electrical signal that can be recorded. The signal voltage is converted via a formula to measure watts per square metre. It is used with a solar tracking system to keep the instrument aimed at the sun. A pyrheliometer is often used in the same setup with a pyranometer.

Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment

The Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment (SORCE) is a NASA-sponsored satellite mission that measures incoming X-ray, ultraviolet, visible, near-infrared, and total solar radiation. These measurements specifically address long-term climate change, natural variability and enhanced climate prediction, and atmospheric ozone and UV-B radiation. These measurements are critical to studies of the Sun, its effect on our Earth system and its influence on humankind. The SORCE spacecraft launched on January 25, 2003 on a Pegasus XL launch vehicle to provide NASA's Earth Science Enterprise (ESE) with precise measurements of solar radiation.

SORCE measures the Sun's output using radiometers, spectrometers, photodiodes, detectors, and bolometers mounted on a satellite observatory. The SORCE satellite orbits the Earth accumulating solar data. Spectral measurements identify the irradiance of the Sun by characterizing the Sun's energy and emissions in the form of color that can then be translated into quantities and elements of matter. Data obtained by the SORCE experiment can be used to model the Sun's output and to explain and predict the effect of the Sun's radiation on the Earth's atmosphere and climate.

Flying in a 645 km, 40 degree orbit, SORCE is operated by the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado. It will continue the precise measurements of total solar irradiance that began with the ERB instrument in 1979 and has continued to the present with the ACRIM series of measurements. SORCE will also provide the measurements of the solar spectral irradiance from 1 nm to 2000 nm, accounting for 95 % of the spectral contribution to the total solar irradiance. SORCE carries four instruments including the Total Irradiance Monitor (TIM), Solar Stellar Irradiance Comparison Experiment (SOLSTICE), Spectral Irradiance Monitor (SIM), and the XUV Photometer System (XPS).

Solar activity and climate

Patterns of solar irradiance and solar variation has been a main driver of climate change over the millennia to gigayears of the geologic time scale, but its role in the recent warming has been found to be insignificant.

Solar constant

The solar constant (GSC) is a flux density measuring mean solar electromagnetic radiation (solar irradiance) per unit area. It is measured on a surface perpendicular to the rays, one astronomical unit (AU) from the Sun (roughly the distance from the Sun to the Earth).

The solar constant includes all types of solar radiation, not just the visible light. It is measured by satellite as being 1.361 kilowatts per square meter (kW/m²) at solar minimum and approximately 0.1% greater (roughly 1.362 kW/m²) at solar maximum.The solar "constant" is not a physical constant in the modern CODATA scientific sense; that is, it is not like the Planck constant or the speed of light which are absolutely constant in physics. The solar constant is an average of a varying value. In the past 400 years it has varied less than 0.2 percent. Billions of years ago, it was significantly lower.

This constant is used in the calculation of radiation pressure, which aids in the calculation of a force on a solar sail.

Solar cycle

The solar cycle or solar magnetic activity cycle is the nearly periodic 11-year change in the Sun's activity (including changes in the levels of solar radiation and ejection of solar material) and appearance (changes in the number and size of sunspots, flares, and other manifestations).

They have been observed (by changes in the Sun's appearance and by changes seen on Earth, such as auroras) for centuries.

The changes on the Sun cause effects in space, in the atmosphere, and on Earth's surface. While it is the dominant variable in solar activity, aperiodic fluctuations also occur.

Solar cycle 21

Solar cycle 21 was the 21st solar cycle since 1755, when extensive recording of solar sunspot activity began. The solar cycle lasted 10.5 years, beginning in March 1976 and ending in September 1986. The maximum smoothed sunspot number (SIDC formula) observed during the solar cycle was 232.9, in December 1979, and the starting minimum was 17.8. During the minimum transit from solar cycle 21 to 22, there were a total of 273 days with no sunspots. The largest solar flare of this cycle (X15) occurred on July 11, 1978.This solar cycle marked the beginning of systematic monitoring of the total solar irradiance from space.

Solar luminosity

The solar luminosity, L☉, is a unit of radiant flux (power emitted in the form of photons) conventionally used by astronomers to measure the luminosity of stars, galaxies and other celestial objects in terms of the output of the Sun. One nominal solar luminosity is defined by the International Astronomical Union to be 3.828×1026 W. This does not include the solar neutrino luminosity, which would add 0.023 L☉. The Sun is a weakly variable star, and its actual luminosity therefore fluctuates. The major fluctuation is the eleven-year solar cycle (sunspot cycle) that causes a periodic variation of about ±0.1%. Other variations over the last 200–300 years are thought to be much smaller than this.

Solar maximum

Solar maximum or solar max is a regular period of greatest Sun activity during the 11-year solar cycle. During solar maximum, large numbers of sunspots appear, and the solar irradiance output grows by about 0.07%. The increased energy output of solar maxima can impact Earth's global climate, and recent studies have shown some correlation with regional weather patterns.At solar maximum, the Sun's magnetic field lines are the most distorted due to the magnetic field on the solar equator rotating at a slightly faster pace than at the solar poles. On average, the solar cycle takes about 11 years to go from one solar maximum to the next, with duration observed varying from 9 to 14 years.

Large solar flares often occur during a maximum. For example, the solar storm of 1859 struck the Earth with such intensity that the northern lights were visible as far from the poles as Cuba and Hawaii.


Sunlight is a portion of the electromagnetic radiation given off by the Sun, in particular infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light. On Earth, sunlight is filtered through Earth's atmosphere, and is obvious as daylight when the Sun is above the horizon. When the direct solar radiation is not blocked by clouds, it is experienced as sunshine, a combination of bright light and radiant heat. When it is blocked by clouds or reflects off other objects, it is experienced as diffused light. The World Meteorological Organization uses the term "sunshine duration" to mean the cumulative time during which an area receives direct irradiance from the Sun of at least 120 watts per square meter. Other sources indicate an "Average over the entire earth" of "164 Watts per square meter over a 24 hour day".The ultraviolet radiation in sunlight has both positive and negative health effects, as it is both a requisite for vitamin D3 synthesis and a mutagen.

Sunlight takes about 8.3 minutes to reach Earth from the surface of the Sun. A photon starting at the center of the Sun and changing direction every time it encounters a charged particle would take between 10,000 and 170,000 years to get to the surface.Sunlight is a key factor in photosynthesis, the process used by plants and other autotrophic organisms to convert light energy, normally from the Sun, into chemical energy that can be used to synthesize carbohydrates and to fuel the organisms' activities.

Weather and climate

There is often confusion between weather and climate. Weather is the condition of the atmosphere at a particular place over a short period of time, whereas climate refers to the weather pattern, using statistical data, of a place over a long enough period to yield meaningful averages.Climatology studies climate, meteorology is the study

of weather; both are atmospheric sciences. Climate is an important physical element because it indicates the atmospheric condition of heat, moisture and circulation; it plays a dominant role in shaping vegetation and soil; and it ultimately affects all forms of life, as a result of the very definition of the word, which is a scientific prediction, based on evidentiary statistics, sustained over a long period.

There are many elements that make up both the weather and the climate of a geographical location. The most significant of these elements are temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, solar irradiance, humidity, precipitation, and topography. The greatest influence of climatic change is associated with not only natural, but also artificial factors, which can be measured in terms of both short-term and long-term climate change.

Solar power
and uses
Other applications
See also

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