• Open Access

Retrieving cirrus microphysical properties from stellar aureoles



[1] The aureoles around stars caused by thin cirrus limit nighttime measurement opportunities for ground-based astronomy, but can provide information on high-altitude ice crystals for climate research. In this paper we attempt to demonstrate quantitatively how this works. Aureole profiles can be followed out to ~0.2° from stars and ~0.5° from Jupiter. Interpretation of diffracted starlight is similar to that for sunlight, but emphasizes larger particles. Stellar diffraction profiles are very distinctive, typically being approximately flat out to a critical angle followed by gradually steepening power-law falloff with slope less steep than −3. Using the relationship between the phase function for diffraction and the average Fourier transform of the projected area of complex ice crystals, we show that defining particle size in terms of average projected area normal to the propagation direction of the starlight leads to a simple, analytic approximation representing large-particle diffraction that is nearly independent of crystal habit. A similar analytic approximation for the diffraction aureole allows it to be separated from the point spread function and the sky background. Multiple scattering is deconvolved using the Hankel transform leading to the diffraction phase function. Application of constrained numerical inversion to the phase function then yields a solution for the particle size distribution in the range between ~50 μm and ~400 μm. Stellar aureole measurements can provide one of the very few, as well as least expensive, methods for retrieving cirrus microphysical properties from ground-based observations.