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Atmospheric scintillation in astronomical photometry

Osborn, J.; Föhring, D.; Dhillon, V.S.; Wilson, R.W.

Atmospheric scintillation in astronomical photometry Thumbnail


D. Föhring

V.S. Dhillon


Scintillation noise due to the Earth's turbulent atmosphere can be a dominant noise source in high-precision astronomical photometry when observing bright targets from the ground. Here we describe the phenomenon of scintillation from its physical origins to its effect on photometry. We show that Young's scintillation-noise approximation used by many astronomers tends to underestimate the median scintillation noise at several major observatories around the world. We show that using median atmospheric optical turbulence profiles, which are now available for most sites, provides a better estimate of the expected scintillation noise and that real-time turbulence profiles can be used to precisely characterize the scintillation-noise component of contemporaneous photometric measurements. This will enable a better understanding and calibration of photometric noise sources and the effectiveness of scintillation correction techniques. We also provide new equations for calculating scintillation noise, including for extremely large telescopes where the scintillation noise will actually be lower than previously thought. These equations highlight the fact that scintillation noise and shot noise have the same dependence on exposure time and so if an observation is scintillation limited, it will be scintillation limited for all exposure times. The ratio of scintillation noise to shot noise is also only weakly dependent on telescope diameter and so a bigger telescope may not yield a reduction in fractional scintillation noise.


Osborn, J., Föhring, D., Dhillon, V., & Wilson, R. (2015). Atmospheric scintillation in astronomical photometry. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 452(2), 1707-1716.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 22, 2015
Online Publication Date Jul 16, 2015
Publication Date Sep 11, 2015
Deposit Date Aug 20, 2015
Publicly Available Date Sep 4, 2015
Journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Print ISSN 0035-8711
Electronic ISSN 1365-2966
Publisher Royal Astronomical Society
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 452
Issue 2
Pages 1707-1716
Keywords Atmospheric effects, Instrumentation: photometers, Methods: observational, Site testing, Techniques: photometric, Planets and satellites: detection.
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Published Journal Article (2.2 Mb)

Copyright Statement
This article has been accepted for publication in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society ©: 2015 The Authors Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.

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