Solar Physics

, Volume 74, Issue 1, pp 217–229

Solar total irradiance observations by Active Cavity Radiometers

  • Richard C. Willson
Solar Radiation


Pyrheliometry, definition of the radiation scale in the International System of Units and monitoring the variability of solar total irradiance have been a focus of research at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory since the mid 1960's. A series of automated, electrically self-calibrating, cavity pyrheliometers known as Active Cavity Radiometers (ACR's) was developed as part of this program. A series of ground based experiments in 1968–69 led to the discovery of a systematic error in the International Pyrheliometric Scale. ACR's were among the instruments used to define the World Radiometric Reference in 1975.

ACR flight experiments have been conducted to determine the 1 AU total solar irradiance and monitor its variability in time. A 1969 balloon experiment yielded a 1366 W m-2 result. The value from a 1976 sounding rocket experiment was 1368.1 W m-2. The results for two additional rocket experiments in 1978 and 80, revised in accordance with recent calibrations of ACR response to elevated pressures during these flights are: 1367.6 and 1367.8 W m-2, respectively. An ACR experiment (ACRIM) on the Solar Maximum Mission satellite has shown continuous variability of the total solar flux below the ±0.05% level and two large, temporary decreases of 0.1–0.2% lasting more than a week. The mean 1 AU total flux for ACRIM's first five months' observations was 1367.7 W m-2. Inflight comparison of ACR rocket and satellite measurements in May, 1980 demonstrated agreement to within ±0.05%. The 1 AU total solar irradiance results from ACR rocket and satellite experiments between 1976 and 1980 differ from their mean of 1367.8 W m-2 by no more than ±0.02%. The less precise 1969 balloon result is 0.1% lower. Although no observations were made from 1970–75, if solar behaviour in those five years was similar to that observed since 1976 then the upper limits of long term solar total irradiance variability are ±0.2% for the 1969–1980 period and ±0.1% between 1976 and 1980, based on the set of ACR observations.


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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Co 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard C. Willson
    • 1
  1. 1.Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of TechnologyPasadenaU.S.A.

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