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Durham University

Department of Physics

Staff profile

Publication details for Dr Richard Wilson

Osborn, J., Föhring, D., Dhillon, V. S. & Wilson, R. W. (2015). Atmospheric scintillation in astronomical photometry. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 452(2): 1707-1716.

Author(s) from Durham


Scintillation noise due to the Earth's turbulent atmosphere can be a dominant noise source in high-precision astronomical photometry when observing bright targets from the ground. Here we describe the phenomenon of scintillation from its physical origins to its effect on photometry. We show that Young's scintillation-noise approximation used by many astronomers tends to underestimate the median scintillation noise at several major observatories around the world. We show that using median atmospheric optical turbulence profiles, which are now available for most sites, provides a better estimate of the expected scintillation noise and that real-time turbulence profiles can be used to precisely characterize the scintillation-noise component of contemporaneous photometric measurements. This will enable a better understanding and calibration of photometric noise sources and the effectiveness of scintillation correction techniques. We also provide new equations for calculating scintillation noise, including for extremely large telescopes where the scintillation noise will actually be lower than previously thought. These equations highlight the fact that scintillation noise and shot noise have the same dependence on exposure time and so if an observation is scintillation limited, it will be scintillation limited for all exposure times. The ratio of scintillation noise to shot noise is also only weakly dependent on telescope diameter and so a bigger telescope may not yield a reduction in fractional scintillation noise.