Articles | Volume 9, issue 8
Research article
01 Aug 2016
Research article |  | 01 Aug 2016

The Moon as a photometric calibration standard for microwave sensors

Martin Burgdorf, Stefan A. Buehler, Theresa Lang, Simon Michel, and Imke Hans

Abstract. Instruments on satellites for Earth observation on polar orbits usually employ a two-point calibration technique, in which deep space and an onboard calibration target provide two reference flux levels. As the direction of the deep-space view is in general close to the celestial equator, the Moon sometimes moves through the field of view and introduces an unwelcome additional signal. One can take advantage of this intrusion, however, by using the Moon as a third flux standard, and this has actually been done for checking the lifetime stability of sensors operating at visible wavelengths. As the disk-integrated thermal emission of the Moon is less well known than its reflected sunlight, this concept can in the microwave range only be used for stability checks and intercalibration. An estimate of the frequency of appearances of the Moon in the deep-space view, a description of the limiting factors of the measurement accuracy and models of the Moon's brightness, and a discussion of the benefits from complementing the naturally occurring appearances of the Moon with dedicated spacecraft maneuvers show that it would be possible to detect photometric lifetime drifts of a few percent with just two measurements. The pointing accuracy is the most crucial factor for the value of this method. Planning such observations in advance would be particularly beneficial, because it allows observing the Moon at well-defined phase angles and putting it at the center of the field of view. A constant phase angle eliminates the need for a model of the Moon's brightness when checking the stability of an instrument. With increasing spatial resolution of future microwave sensors another question arises, viz. to what extent foreground emission from objects other than the Moon will contaminate the flux entering the deep-space view, which is supposed to originate exclusively in the cosmic microwave background. We conclude that even the brightest discreet sources have flux densities below the detection limit of microwave sensors in a single scan.

Short summary
The upper-tropospheric humidity is an essential climate variable, which can be measured with microwave sounders in polar orbits. A stable photometric calibration of these instruments is indispensable for detecting long-term trends. We demonstrate that this can be achieved by using the Moon in a fixed phase as a flux standard for dedicated pitch maneuver observations. This method is particularly suited for future sensors with small beamwidths.