Indexed on: 01 Nov '00Published on: 01 Nov '00Published in: Space science reviews
Accurate measurements of solar irradiance started in 1978, but a much longer time series is needed in order to uncover a possible influence on the Earth's climate. In order to reconstruct the irradiance prior to 1978 we require both an understanding of the underlying causes of solar irradiance variability as well as data describing the state of the Sun (in particular its magnetic field) at the relevant epochs.Evidence is accumulating that on the time-scale of the solar cycle or less, variations in solar irradiance are produced mainly by changes in the amount and distribution of magnetic flux on the solar surface. The main solar features contributing to a darkening of the Sun are sunspots, while active-region faculae and the network lead to a brightening. There is also increasing evidence for secular changes of the solar magnetic field and the associated of solar brightness variability. In part the behavior of sun-like stars is used as a guide of such secular changes.Under the assumption that solar irradiance variations are due to solar surface magnetism on all relevant time scales it is possible to reconstruct the irradiance with some reliability from today to around 1874, and with lower accuracy back to the Maunder minimum. One major problem is the decreasing amount and accuracy of the relevant data with age. In this review the various reconstructions of past solar irradiance are presented and the assumptions underlying them are scrutinized.