New solar sensor will help monitor sun-to-climate link with greater accuracy

NASA Powers on New Instrument Staring at the Sun

NASA has powered on its latest space payload to continue long-term measurements of the Sun’s incoming energy. Total and Spectral solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1), installed on the International Space Station, became fully operational with all instruments collecting science data as of this March.

tsis-1

The Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment (SORCE), launched in 2003, currently measuring total solar irradiance from space, observed a dip in the irradiance during intense solar flare activity in September 2017. TSIS-1 will continue these observations with one-third the uncertainty of its predecessor. Credits: NASA

“TSIS-1 extends a long data record that helps us understand the Sun’s influence on Earth’s radiation budget, ozone layer, atmospheric circulation, and ecosystems, and the effects that solar variability has on the Earth system and climate change,” said Dong Wu, TSIS-1 project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The instrument was launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 15, 2017. After a two-week pause, TSIS-1 was extracted from the trunk of the SpaceX Dragon capsule and integrated onto its permanent home on the space station.

For over two months, the operations team at the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) in Boulder, Colorado have been testing TSIS-1. First, the team tested the all-important pointing platform that directs the solar instruments at the Sun.

Next came testing of the solar instruments. TSIS-1 studies the total amount of light energy emitted by the Sun using the Total Irradiance Monitor, one of two sensors onboard. This sensor’s data will give us a better understanding of Earth’s primary energy supply and provide information to help improve models simulating the planet’s climate. The monitor first started collecting science data – called “first light”— on January 11th after its doors were opened to fully view the Sun. The sensor extends a 40-year measurement of the Sun’s total energy to Earth.

The second onboard sensor, called the Spectral Irradiance Monitor, measures how the Sun’s energy is distributed over the ultraviolet, visible and infrared regions of light. Measuring the distribution of the Sun’s energy is important because each wavelength of light interacts with Earth’s atmosphere differently.

For instance, spectral irradiance measurements of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation are critical to understanding the ozone layer — Earth’s natural sunscreen that protects life from harmful radiation. The sensor experienced first light on March 4th when full science data collection began. TSIS-1’s Spectral Irradiance Monitor extends a 15-year record of spectral irradiance measurements.

“All systems are operating within their expected ranges,” said Peter Pilewskie, TSIS-1 lead scientist LASP. “A lot of hard work remains for the team to interpret and validate the TSIS-1 data.”

In addition to those 11-year changes, entire solar cycles can vary from decade to decade. Scientists have observed unusually quiet magnetic activity from the Sun for the past two decades with previous satellites. During the last prolonged solar minimum in 2008-2009, our Sun was as quiet it has been observed since 1978. Scientists expect the Sun to enter a solar minimum within the next three years, and TSIS-1 will be primed to take measurements of the next minimum.

“We don’t know what the next solar cycle is going to bring, but we’ve had a couple of solar cycles that have been weaker than we’ve had in quite a while so who knows. It’s a pretty exciting time to be studying the Sun,” said Dong Wu, the TSIS-1 project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Goddard is responsible for the overall development and operation of TSIS-1 on the International Space Station.

TSIS-1 data are particularly important for helping scientists understand the causes of total solar irradiance fluctuations and how they are connected with the Sun’s behavior over decades or centuries. Today, scientists have neither enough data nor the forecasting skill to predict whether total solar irradiance has any long-term trend, said Doug Rabin, deputy project scientist at Goddard. TSIS-1 will continue a data sequence that is vital to answering that question.

These data are also important for understanding Earth’s climate through models. Scientists use computer models to interpret changes in the Sun’s energy input. If less solar energy is available, scientists can gauge how that will affect Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, weather and seasons by using computer simulations. The input from the Sun is just one of many factors scientists used to model Earth’s climate. Earth’s climate is also affected by other factors such as greenhouse gases, clouds scattering light and small particles in the atmosphere called aerosols — all of which are taken into account in comprehensive climate models.

TSIS-1

Shown here: the pointing platform directs the solar instruments at the Sun. Perched on the space station, the instrument operates like a sunflower and follows the Sun from sunrise to its sunset, which occurs every 90 minutes. At sunset, TSIS-1 rewinds, recalibrates and waits for the next sunrise Credits: University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP)

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has overall responsibility for the development and operation of TSIS-1 on the International Space Station for the next 5 years.  LASP under contract with NASA, is responsible for providing the solar irradiance measurements and providing them to the Goddard Earth Science Data and Information Services Center, the archive and distribution center for TSIS-1 data, so they are available to the scientific community.For more information on the TSIS-1 mission, visit www.nasa.gov/tsis-1.

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40 thoughts on “New solar sensor will help monitor sun-to-climate link with greater accuracy

  1. Given that the Sun is the primary influence on the climate and the only legitimate source of forcing, why has it taken so long to get something like this up there?

      • “Yes, but all the other factors that determine insolation are primarily dependent on the Sun.”
        That is not true. What causes the difference in insolation at 90 N and 90 S on any given day? It ain’t any variation in the Sun. It is solely the effect of obliquity. The Sun remains the same, the conditions on Earth change.
        “Orbital variability simply changes how much solar energy we receive.”
        That is true and is exactly what causes the seasons and the climate at different parts of the Earth. The Sun remains the same, the conditions on Earth change.
        “The ‘forcing’ test is to consider what happens if the forcing (Sun) was removed. If this were to happen, nothing else would matter, thus the Sun is the only forcing influence.”
        That may sound profound but is really just a strawman. You have taken the tiny variations in the Sun TSI and reduced it to the extreme to try to make a point. But the point is that the Sun is almost constant and it is the Earth conditions that change. So no, changes in the Sun is not the main driver of climate.
        The question ” Is it the Sun or is it not the Sun” has been argued back and forth on this site for years and will probably continue well into the future unless something totally catastrophic happens. Hopefully that will not be in my lifetime.

      • Sorry, the above is out of place . It is in response to co2isnotevil March 16, 2018 at 7:42 pm below.

    • The Sun is not the primary influence on climate. The Sun is the energy source for the Planet but there are other conditions that vary insolation which creates the climates around the Earth, with number one being the Earth’s orbital dynamics.

      • Only if you buy into the false narrative that there is an average Earth temperature that can be used to explain the average Earth climate at any one point.

      • “The sun is not the primary influence…” Are you insane? It is the only influence. Take away the sun and you have close to -273K. What kind of climate is that?

      • tim & ntesdorf,
        You are confused. No one says the Sun is not the power source for the Earth. I am saying that what causes the difference in climate is not the changes in the Sun but the amount of the Sun’s energy that strikes the surface of the Earth. You certainly know that when it is winter in the northern hemisphere it is summer in the southern hemisphere and visa versa. Yet the energy output coming from the Sun is the same. The difference in the amount of energy striking the different hemispheres is due to the Earth’s obliquity. So it is not the Sun that causes the difference in seasons but rather the orbital parameters of the Earth. If you stand in the direct sunlight in summer then move into the shade of a tree, the amount of the Sun’s energy directly striking your exposed skin is different but it is not the Sun that changed, it is your change in position that allowed the interference of the tree to lessen the amount striking your skin. Put sun block on one arm and nothing on the other. Go out into the direct sunlight for a period of time. One arm will get sunburn the other won’t. Was that a difference in the Sun’s output or did you alter the amount of the Sun’s energy that penetrates you skin?

      • Tom,
        Yes, but all the other factors that determine insolation are primarily dependent on the Sun. Orbital variability simply changes how much solar energy we receive. The ‘forcing’ test is to consider what happens if the forcing (Sun) was removed. If this were to happen, nothing else would matter, thus the Sun is the only forcing influence.

      • It’s not a satellite, it’s on ISS. That choice sounds like a very sub-prime solution as a platform for studying the sun. Half the time in the shade and not sun synchronous orbit. Good luck with cross-calibration against the existing record.
        More like yet another discontinuity which prevents any useful long term analysis.

      • The warmish people had determined that the sun is a fixed variable, and that the only real variable is the CO2. If someone starts to speak about variations of the sun’s output, the beach bar collapses with a little gust of wind.

    • “Dong Wu, the TSIS-1 project scientist
      at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
      in Greenbelt, Maryland.”
      “Goddard is responsible
      for the overall development
      and operation of TSIS-1
      on the International Space Station.”
      .
      .
      My comments:
      Can we trust government bureaucrats
      with science degrees to provide us with
      accurate non-“adjusted” data from the
      new satellite ?
      I see no logical reason to trust NASA-GISS
      at all. Or even the University of Colorado
      Laboratory for Atmospheric
      and Space Physics (LASP)
      in Boulder, Colorado
      NASA and NOAA are filled with government
      bureaucrats who claim a ridiculous
      +/- 0.1 degree margin of error for
      surface temperature data, that are
      a combination of over 50%
      wild guess infilling, and
      under 50% “adjusted raw data” !
      Then they COMPLETELY IGNORE
      their own unbelievably small
      margin of error claims,
      and tell the general public that
      one year was warmer than the prior year
      by a few hundredths of a degree !
      In addition, they completely ignore
      weather satellite and radiosonde
      temperature data ( because they can “adjust”
      the surface data to say anything they want
      it to say, in my opinion ! )
      They make global warming predictions,
      and control the average temperature actuals
      – a huge conflict of interest,
      and I have just explained
      why NASA and NOAA can’t be trusted.
      When the people who compile the data
      have proven themselves to be smarmy
      government bureaucrats, with a left-wing
      “we must show warming because we
      predicted warming” agenda, a brand new
      satellite may just means a new way
      to con the general public.
      I’m not cynical — I’m just reporting what
      has actually happened, and assuming
      past behaviors will continue —
      — bureaucrats with bad character
      can never be trusted..
      My climate change blog for people with common sense.
      Not leftists, of course:
      http://www.elOnionBloggle.Blogspot.com

  2. From the article: “Today, scientists have neither enough data nor the forecasting skill to predict whether total solar irradiance has any long-term trend, said Doug Rabin, deputy project scientist at Goddard. TSIS-1 will continue a data sequence that is vital to answering that question.”
    Solar irradiance had a long-term trend before humans came along.

    • Most stars we observe have variable output with seemingly random periods. What’s to say that the same mechanisms with a period of centuries doesn’t apply to our star?

    • even we can postulate the possibility of the sun having some instabilities towards more or less irradiation.
      We had not been monitoring the sun for a long time to know this well.

  3. ‘TSIS-1 data are particularly important for helping scientists understand the causes’
    This grates on me. Data – measurements – cannot explain.

    • “‘TSIS-1 data are particularly important for helping scientists understand the causes’
      This grates on me. Data – measurements – cannot explain.”
      Cannot explain? — sure. But can “having data” help people to understand? Better than “not having data” is my guess. But I’m not an egghead 🙂
      Cheers, Andy

  4. They aren’t really interested in the sun-climate link, but do want it to appear that they are.

  5. The real issue is that the actual records of solar emissions are over so short a period. Some of the earth’s climate cycles span decades or longer, and trying to relate solar emissions to those covers less than one cycle in many cases.

  6. I trust that when they start putting all that data into their computers someone will ask how much energy is used up lifting billions of tonnes of water up into the clouds. This, of course being done oblivious of CO2 and at a climate sensitivity of zero.
    Also they may wish to ask the part played by gravity in determining the temperature range involved in the process. A quick look at the Rankine Cycle would be helpful here; as that is the prime mechanism.
    Concentrating purely on matters of radiation will not answer those questions.

  7. While monitoring TSI from outside Earth’s atmosphere is vitally important, the various instruments deployed to date do not agree with one another, making trends very difficult to assess. Other satellite instruments share this problem. I suggest that trends are much more important than minor accuracy errors (which can be corrected), and that trends are best monitored using the same instrument over decades, not several years. This is why the Dobson ozone record is so trusted, for the optical components of the Dobson have remained unchanged since the 1950s.

    • While monitoring TSI from outside Earth’s atmosphere is vitally important, the various instruments deployed to date do not agree with one another, making trends very difficult to assess
      As long as there is good overlap in time between the instruments, this is not really a problem.

  8. Why put this instrument on the ISS instead of a stand-alone satellite? Isn’t the plan to de-orbit the ISS around 2025 or so?

  9. If the UV part of the spectrum is so important but the most variable, why is the range of the TSIS-1 limited UVA and UVB? It would seem that UVC (<200 nm) would more interesting, seeing that this range is the most energetic, variable and which would generate most of the O3, no?

  10. For the best proxy of energy reaching the surface of the planet, use the Solar Flux from Penticton, Canada.
    As stated above, high level energy comes from the Sun. The radiation from the Earth is low level energy. It is a different pathway, i.e., this is due to the atmosphere and the absorption of the energy by the land and oceans.
    The Earth can only radiate from the land and oceans back through the atmosphere. Obviously, the land can not radiate high level energy like the sun, therefore, a low level energy pathway.
    Since the Earth stores energy in the oceans (this is the energy temperature we measure), the oceans integrate (or store the energy from the Sun).
    The correct way to determine the “average temperature” of the planet is to have an energy entering pathway and a energy leaving pathway. One can then integrate the difference to determine whether we are storing more of less energy.

  11. I’m all for this kind of spacecraft, and the data it can provide. It’s one of the few things the US government can legitimately do, and they do it fairly well.

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