Toward More Precise Survey Photometry for PanSTARRS and LSST: Measuring Directly the Optical Transmission Spectrum of the Atmosphere
Motivated by the recognition that variation in the optical transmission of the atmosphere is probably the main limitation to the precision of ground-based CCD measurements of celestial fluxes, we review the physical processes that attenuate the passage of light through Earth's atmosphere. The next generation of astronomical surveys, such as PanSTARRS and LSST, will greatly benefit from dedicated apparatus to obtain atmospheric transmission data that can be associated with each survey image. We review and compare various approaches to this measurement problem, including photometry, spectroscopy, and LIDAR. In conjunction with careful measurements of instrumental throughput, atmospheric transmission measurements should allow next-generation imaging surveys to produce photometry of unprecedented precision. Our primary concerns are the real-time determination of aerosol scattering and absorption by water along the line of sight, both of which can vary over the course of a night's observations.