Near-infrared sky background fluctuations at mid- and low latitudes
The emission of the upper atmosphere introduces an additional variable component into observations of astronomical objects in the NIR 700–3,000 nm range. The subtraction of this component is not easy because it varies during the night by as much as 100% and it is not homogeneous over the sky. A program aimed at measuring and understanding the main characteristics of the atmospheric NIR emission was undertaken. A 512 × 512 CCD camera equipped with a RG780/2 mm filter is used to obtain images of the sky in a 36° × 36° field of view. The intensities of a given star and of the nearby region devoid of star in a 439 arcmin2 area are monitored during periods of time of several hours. The sky intensity measured in the 754–900 nm bandpass, reduced to zenith and zero airmass is comprised between mag20 and mag18.5 per arcsecond2. A diminution by a factor of two during the night is frequently observed. Intensity fluctuations having an amplitude of 15% and periods of 5–40 min are present in the images with a structure of regularly spaced stripes. The fluctuations of the NIR sky background intensity are due to (1) the chemical evolution of the upper atmosphere composition during the night and (2) dynamical processes such as tides with periods of 3–6 h or gravity waves with periods of several tens of minutes. We suggest that a monitoring of the sky background intensity could be set up when quantitative observations of astronomical objects require exposure times longer than ~10 min. The publication is illustrated with several video films accessible on the web site http://www.obs-besancon.fr/nirsky/. Enter username: nirsky and password: skynir.