For the purpose of this question I do not want to focus simply on the fact that there will be less "night time" for the panels while in orbit/outside the atmosphere of a planet.

What I'd like to focus on:

Understanding how much our atmosphere will actually absorb/deflect the incoming solar radiation. How much of a reduction in power are we looking in relation to AU? E.G. Would a solar panel on a plane halfway to the karman line see significant improvement in power? Is there any atmospheric composition in our solar system that would reduce the amount of solar energy available at the surface moreso than Earth?

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    $\begingroup$ this much, at noon: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Solar_spectrum_en.svg but usually people use AM 1.5 to account for average solar angles being lower, so the difference is usually larger. Then there is scattering due to aerosols, haze, even on a "sunny" day. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 12, 2018 at 23:09
  • $\begingroup$ "Is there any atmospheric composition in our solar system that would reduce the amount of solar energy available at the surface moreso than Earth?" Venus. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 1:36
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh I mean jupiter too if you like melted solar panels :P. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 2:26
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    $\begingroup$ For gas giants it's more complicated to establish at which altitude the planet's atmosphere ends and the planet itself begins. See for example the answers to Why does Jupiter atmosphere does not get thinner on edges. If you look at the image (of Saturn) in my answer there you'll see the atmosphere is still transparent even though it refracts strongly, so I would not a priori assume Jupiter's atmosphere is opaque. That's why I gave Venus as an example to address "Is there any..." $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 2:56
  • $\begingroup$ @uhoh interesting, I haven't studied the theories behind gas giants as much as other planets; so I really don't know much other than the fact that they're massive and they can rain diamonds/melt them instantly. I'd love to see the bell curve like was given for Earth for all of the solar systems planets-- or maybe a composition and density map for elements at different levels of the atmosphere. Don't know if that exists for Jupiter, but it would be a fun read :). $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 14:24

1 Answer 1


Difference between insolation at the surface and in LEO:

enter image description here

When 1361 W/m2 is arriving above the atmosphere (when the sun is at the zenith in a cloudless sky), direct sun is about 1050 W/m2, and global radiation on a horizontal surface at ground level is about 1120 W/m2.[25]

  • $\begingroup$ Is there any information akin to this graph for Mars under ideal conditions? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 13:04
  • $\begingroup$ @MagicOctopusUrn that's a great question, consider asking as a new question though. You can link it with your current question about Earth. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 1:33

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