Applied Physics

Cloud Gazing

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Science  29 May 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5931, pp. 1118
DOI: 10.1126/science.324_1118c
CREDIT: MICHAEL MISCHENKO (NASA/GISS)

For persons deep in thought, or perhaps simply wishing to pass time peacefully, looking up at the clouds has been an idle pursuit practiced for millennia. To those in the communication business, though, cloud gazing and characterization are serious issues. There is an increasing demand for higher data transfer rates between Earth-based communication stations and space-based satellites. Optical signals provide the fastest possible route of communication between two points. However, Earth-to-space optical links can be hampered by signal attenuation or obstruction from cloud cover. Nugent et al. have developed a thermal infrared cloud imaging system that can characterize and classify clouds above a communication station. With this established ability to determine the optical depth of particular clouds, they can apply their technique toward keeping the communication channels open even when there is partial or thin cloud cover.

Opt. Express 17, 7862 (2009).

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