Solar Constant - Formula, Value, Variation and FAQs

Introduction of Solar Constant

The measure of the solar electromagnetic radiation in a meter squared at Earth's distance from the sun is called a solar constant. To quantify the rate at the unit surface of a solar panel in which the energy is received upon the solar constant is used. In this case, the solar constant is absorbed at a given point and provides a total measurement of the sun's radiant energy. They are used in several atmospheric and geological sciences. Though it is called a constant, the solar constant is just nearly constant. Once every eleven years, the relative constant varies by 0.2% in a cycle that peaks. In 1838, Claude Pouillet made the first attempt to estimate the solar constant at 1.228 kW/m2. At a solar minimum of 1.361 kW/m2 and a solar maximum of 1.362 kW/m2, the constant is rated.


To measure the solar constant and not just the visible light, the entire spectrum of electromagnetic radiation is included in it. From the satellites, the solar constant is taken at the best direct measurements. To calculate a solar constant, the Stefan-Boltzman constant is used. In this case, the constant refers to the power per unit area emitted by a black body as a function of its thermodynamic temperature.


The Dimensional formula for solar constant

The solar constant is the incident ray of solar energy per unit area per second on the earth surface.

Solar constant = Energy / (Unit area x Unit time)

  = ML²T⁻² / (L²T)

  = MT⁻³


What is Solar Constant

The solar constant which is denoted by the symbol GSC is a flux density which is the measuring mean of solar electromagnetic radiation. It is the solar irradiance per unit area. It is said to be measured on a surface perpendicular to the rays that is one astronomical unit denoted by AU from the Sun which is roughly the distance from the Sun to the planet. The solar constant includes all types of solar radiation and not just visible light. It is said to be measured by satellite as being 1.361 kilowatts per square meter which is written as kW/m2 at solar minimum that is the time in the 11-year solar cycle when the number of sunspots is minimal) and approximately 0.1% greater roughly 1.362 kW/m2 at solar maximum.


Solar Constant Value

The time per unit of area on a theoretical surface that is perpendicular to the rays of the Sun and at Earth’s mean distance from the Suns is said to be the most accurate measurement that is measured from satellites where atmospheric effects are absent. The value of the constant is approximately said to be 1.366 kilowatts per square metre.

 

The “solar constant” is fairly constant, increasing by only 0.2 per cent at the peak of each 11-year solar cycle. The sunspots usually block out the light and reduce the emission by a few tenths of a percent but the bright spot, also known as the plagues that are associated with the solar activity, is more extensive and longer-lived. Moreover, as the Sun burns up its hydrogen presence, the solar constant increases by about 10 percent every billion years.


The solar constant is not a physical constant in the modern CODATA scientific sense; unlike the Planck constant or the speed of light which are absolutely constant in Physics. The solar constant is said to be an average of a varying value. In the past 400 years, it has varied even less than 0.2 per cent.  That is we can say that billions of years ago or so, it was significantly lower. This constant is said to be used in the calculation of radiation pressure which helps in the calculation of a force on a solar sail.


Solar Constant Variation

The luminosity of the Sun is said to be approximately about 3.86 x 1026 watts. This is the total power that is said to be radiated out into space by the Sun. Most of this radiation is in the visible as well as the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum. With less than 1% emitted in the radio, UV and X-ray spectral bands. The energy of the sun is radiated uniformly in all directions.


As the Sun is about 150 million kilometers from the Earth and because the Earth is about 6300 km in radius, only 0.000000045% of this power is intercepted by our planet. This still amounts to a massive 1.75 x 1017 watts. For the purposes of the energy of the solar capture we normally talk about the amount of power in sunlight which is generally passing through a single square metre face-on to the Sun. The power of the Sun at the planet Earth as per square metre is known as the solar constant and is approximately 1370 watts per square metre is denoted by W/m2.


The constant that is the solar constant actually varies by +/-3% because of the planet Earth's slightly elliptical orbit around the star Sun. The distance between Sun-Earth is smaller when the Earth is at perihelion that is the first week in January and larger when the Earth is at aphelion that is the first week in July. The solar constant is also referred to as the power per unit area received at the average Earth-Sun distance of one Astronomical Unit denoted by AU which is 149.59787066 million kilometres.


There is also another variation that is smaller, due to a variation in the total luminosity of the Sun itself. This variation has been measured by radiometers aboard several satellites since the late 1970s.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is solar energy?

The energy transformation present in the sun is called solar energy and it is one of the renewable forms of energy. Most of the rays that pass through the atmosphere of the earth are visible light and infrared radiation. Plants make use of it to convert energy into sugar and starches. This process of conversion in plants is called photosynthesis. Solar energies are converted into electrical energy by using solar cell panels. Solar energies are broadly classified into two types, active solar energy, and passive solar energy.

2. What is the solar constant formula?

The measure of the solar electromagnetic radiation per unit time in a meter squared at Earth's distance from the sun is called a solar constant. To quantify the rate at the unit surface of a solar panel in which the energy is received upon the solar constant is used. In this case, the solar constant is absorbed at a given point and provides a total measurement of the sun's radiant energy. At a solar minimum of 1.361 kW/m2 and a solar maximum of 1.362 kW/m2, the constant is rated.

3. What is an Astronomical Unit?

An Astronomical Unit (AU) is defined as the average distance from Earth to the Sun, which is around 93 million miles or 150 million kilometres. To measure distances within our Solar System,  Astronomical units are used. For example, the planet Mercury is about 1/3 Astronomical Unit from the sun, whereas the farthest planet, Pluto (now a dwarf planet), is around 40 AU from the sun, which is 40 times the distance away from the planet Earth to the Sun.

4. Why is the solar constant varied?

As the planet Earth is slightly elliptical in orbit around the Sun, the solar constant is varied by 3%. When the Earth is at perihelion or in the first week of January, the distance between Sun-Earth will be smaller. When the Earth is at aphelion or in the first week in July the distance between the sun and earth will be larger. The solar constant is said to be the power per unit area received at the average distance from Earth to Sun of one Astronomical Unit (AU) which is 149.59787066 million kilometers.

5. Explain what the solar constant value is.

The constant of solar energy is the total radiation energy received from the Sun per unit of time per unit of area on a theoretical surface directed perpendicular to the Sun's rays and at Earth's implying the distance from the Sun. The value of the constant is said to be approximately 1.366 kilowatts per square meter.

6. Why is the solar constant important?

Knowledge of the exact value of the solar constant is very important for the study of heat-exchange processes in the earth's atmosphere and for the investigation of processes occurring in the sun.

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