Measurement of the earthshine polarization in the B, V, R, and I bands as function of phase
ETH Zurich, Institute of Astronomy, Wolfgang-Pauli-Str. 27, 8093
2 Kiepenheuer Institut für Sonnenphysik, Schöneckstr. 6, 79104 Freiburg, Germany
Accepted: 4 June 2013
Context. Earth-like, extrasolar planets may soon become observable with upcoming high contrast polarimeters. Therefore, the characterization of the polarimetric properties of the planet Earth is important for interpreting expected observations and planning of future instruments.
Aims. Benchmark values for the polarization signal of integrated light from the planet Earth in broad band filters are derived from new polarimetric observations of the earthshine backscattered from the Moon’s dark side.
Methods. The fractional polarization of the earthshine pes is measured in the B,V,R, and I filters for Earth-phase angles α between 30° and 110° with a new, specially designed wide field polarimeter. In the observations, the light from the bright lunar crescent is blocked with focal plane masks. Because the entire Moon is imaged, the earthshine observations can be corrected for the stray light from the bright lunar crescent and twilight. The phase dependence of pes is fitted by a function pes = qmaxsin2α. Depending on wavelength λ and the lunar surface albedo a, the polarization of the backscattered earthshine is significantly reduced. To determine the polarization of the planet Earth, we correct our earthshine measurements by a polarization efficiency function for the lunar surface ϵ(λ,a) derived from measurements of lunar samples from the literature.
Results. The polarization of the earthshine decreases toward longer wavelengths and is about a factor 1.3 lower for the higher albedo highlands. For mare regions the measured maximum polarization is about qmax,B = 13% for α = 90° (half moon) in the B band. The resulting fractional polarizations for the planet Earth derived from our earthshine measurements and corrected by ϵ(λ,a) are 24.6% for the B band, 19.1% for the V band, 13.5% for the R band, and 8.3% for the I band. Together with the literature values for the spectral reflectivity, we obtain a contrast Cp between the polarized flux of the planet Earth and the (total) flux of the Sun with an uncertainty of less than 20%, and we find that the best phase for detecting an Earth twin is around α = 65°.
Conclusions. The obtained results provide a multiwavelength and multiphase set of benchmark values that are useful for assessing different instrument and observing strategies for the future high contrast polarimetry of extrasolar planetary systems. Polarimetric models of Earth-like planets are in qualitative agreement with our results, but there are also significant differences that might guide more detailed computations.
Key words: polarization / Earth / Moon / instrumentation: polarimeters / scattering
© ESO, 2013