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Diffuse sky radiation


Diffuse sky radiation is solar radiation reaching the Earth's surface after having been scattered from the direct solar beam by molecules or suspensoids in the atmosphere. It is also called skylight, diffuse skylight, or sky radiation. Of the total light removed from the direct solar beam by scattering in the atmosphere (approximately 25 percent of the incident radiation), about two-thirds ultimately reaches the earth as diffuse sky radiation.

The important processes in the atmosphere (Rayleigh scattering and Mie scattering) are elastic. No energy transformation results, only a change in the spatial distribution of the radiation.



    The sunlit sky appears blue because air scatters short-wavelength light more than longer wavelengths. Since blue light is at the short wavelength end of the visible spectrum, it is more strongly scattered in the atmosphere than long wavelength red light. The result is that the human eye perceives blue when looking toward parts of the sky other than the sun.[1] Near sunrise and sunset, most of the light we see comes in nearly tangent to the Earth's surface, so that the light's path through the atmosphere is so long that much of the blue and even yellow light is scattered out, leaving the sun rays and the clouds it illuminates red.

Scattering and absorption are major causes of the attenuation of radiation by the atmosphere. Scattering varies as a function of the ratio of the particle diameter to the wavelength of the radiation. When this ratio is less than about one-tenth, Rayleigh scattering occurs in which the scattering coefficient varies inversely as the fourth power of the wavelength. At larger values of the ratio of particle diameter to wavelength, the scattering varies in a complex fashion described, for spherical particles, by the Mie theory; at a ratio of the order of 10, the laws of geometric optics begin to apply.

Some of the false beliefs of why the sky is blue are that the sky reflects off the ocean and that the light scatters off dust in the air. These two theories cannot be true, as the sky over the middle of a desert or jungle has the same hue as the sky over the middle of an ocean.

Neutral points

There are three commonly detectable points of zero polarization of diffuse sky radiation (known as neutral points) lying along the vertical circle through the sun.

  • The Arago point, named after its discoverer, is customarily located at about 20° above the antisolar point; but it lies at higher altitudes in turbid air. The latter property makes the Arago distance a useful measure of atmospheric turbidity.
  • The Babinet point, discovered by Babinet in 1840, is located about 15° to 20° above the sun, hence it is difficult to observe because of solar glare.
  • The Brewster point, discovered by Brewster in 1840, is located about 15° to 20° below the sun; hence it is difficult to observe because of solar glare.

Under an overcast sky


There is essentially no direct sunlight under an overcast sky, so all light is then diffuse sky radiation. The flux of light is not very wavelength dependent because the cloud droplets are larger than the light's wavelength and scatter all colors approximately equally. The light passes through the translucent clouds in a manner similar to frosted glass. The intensity ranges (roughly) from 1/6 of direct sunlight for relatively thin clouds down to 1/1000 of direct sunlight under the extreme of thickest storm clouds.

See also


  1. ^ "Rayleigh scattering." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 16 Nov. 2007.


  • Pesic, Peter (2005). Sky in a Bottle. The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-16234-0. 
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Diffuse_sky_radiation". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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