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Searching for Sub-Visual Atmospheric Structures in the Daytime Sky

On sunny, warm days the sun heats the Earth’s surface and the air close to it. Periodically a parcel of air will rise from this area due to the warmed air being buoyant. This parcel is thought to rise in an elongated column of fairly large size such that several hundred tons of air are lofted skyward. In doing so many of the particles generated by Earth-bound processes (pollen, smoke, dust, pollution, water vapor, etc.)  are brought with it. These particles are commonly known as aerosols. If the column reaches an altitude where the contained water vapor condenses then a cumulus cloud will form.

It is known that aerosols have a large effect on polarization of light, up to 30% or so. My first experiment in photographing these columns of air was to take 2 sequential photos of the sky with a linear polarization filter set to 90 degrees apart. Then in accordance with the article excerpt shown below and using an image processing program (Image Magik) I calculated the degree of linear polarization (DOLP) of each pixel from the formula given in the article. The resulting pictures are interesting and strange but do not show the expected structures.

I encourage others to make their own attempt at this goal as I am really a novice at image processing. No doubt there are many other ways of looking at this problem and I welcome all comments, thoughts and ideas. Thanks!

Excerpt from the article “Digital All-Sky Polarization Imaging of Partly Cloudy Skies” from Nathan J. Pust and Joseph A. Shaw

“It is our feeling that unseen aerosols and possibly thin clouds in what has recently been called the “twilight zone” between a cloud and the clear sky are reducing the DOLP in what appears to be clear sky. We believe that this effect on the sky polarization is directly related to the recently described observations of enhanced optical depth near clouds. In partially cloudy skies, we see DOLP reductions in clear sky areas between clouds that appear to be caused by subvisual aerosols and/or clouds. (Even though clouds appear to have hard edges, they are in fact surrounded by thin clouds.) Furthermore, these DOLP reductions show up in the clear sky long before we can physically see clouds in the sky.”

To determine Degree of Linear Polarization (DOLP) in each pixel he uses this formula:
(Image1pixel value – Image2pixelvalue) / (Image1pixel value + Image2pixelvalue)

Then he normalizes and stretches the result so it fills the whole 8 bit range of 0 to 255 pixel brightness values.

Some of my resulting pictures:

Author: Deane Williams, Connecticut, USA