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Measuring Solar Radiation Incident on Earth: Solar Constant-3 (SOLCON-3)Life on Earth is possible because the climate conditions on Earth are relatively mild. One element of the climate on Earth, the temperature, is determined by the heat exchanges between the Earth and its surroundings, outer space. The heat exchanges take place in the form of electromagnetic radiation. The Earth gains energy because it absorbs solar radiation, and it loses energy because it emits thermal infrared radiation to cold space. The heat exchanges are in balance: the heat gained by the Earth through solar radiation equals the heat lost through thermal radiation. When the balance is perturbed, a temperature change and hence a climate change of the Earth will occur. One possible perturbation of the balance is the CO2 greenhouse effect: when the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere increases, this will reduce the loss of thermal infrared radiation to cold space. Earth will gain more heat and hence the temperature will rise. Another perturbation of the balance can occur through variation of the amount of energy emitted by the sun. When the sun emits more energy, this will directly cause a rise of temperature on Earth. For a long time scientists believed that the energy emitted by the sun was constant. The 'solar constant' is defined as the amount of solar energy received per unit surface at a distance of one astronomical unit (the average distance of Earth's orbit) from the sun. Accurate measurements of the variations of the solar constant have been made since 1978. From these we know that the solar constant varies approximately with the 11-year solar cycle observed in other solar phenomena, such as the occurrence of sunspots, dark spots that are sometimes visible on the solar surface. When a sunspot occurs on the sun, since the spot is dark, the radiation (light) emitted by the sun drops instantaneously. Oddly, periods of high solar activity, when a lot of sunspot numbers increase, correspond to periods when the average solar constant is high. This indicates that the background on which the sunspots occur becomes brighter during high solar activity.
Document ID
Document Type
Other - NASA Publication (NP)
Crommelynck, Dominique
(Institut Royal Meteorologique de Belgique Brussels, Belgium)
Joukoff, Alexandre
(Institut Royal Meteorologique de Belgique Brussels, Belgium)
Dewitte, Steven
(Institut Royal Meteorologique de Belgique Brussels, Belgium)
Date Acquired
August 21, 2013
Publication Date
December 16, 2002
Publication Information
Publication: STS 107 Shuttle Press Kit: Providing 24/7 Space Science Research
Subject Category
Solar Physics
Report/Patent Number
NAS 1.83:5-288-HQ
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
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