Spectropolarimetry of life: Airborne measurements from a hot air balloon

Willeke Mulder*, C. H.Lucas Patty, Stefano Spadaccia, Antoine Pommerol, Brice Olivier Demory, Christoph U. Keller, Jonas G. Kühn, Frans Snik, Daphne M. Stam

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeConference contributionScientificpeer-review


Does life exist outside our Solar System A first step towards searching for life outside our Solar System is detecting life on Earth by using remote sensing applications. One powerful and unambiguous biosignature is the circular polarization resulting from the homochirality of biotic molecules and systems. We aim to investigate the possibility of identifying and characterizing life on Earth by using airborne spectropolarimetric observations from a hot air balloon during our field campaign in Switzerland, May 2022. In this proceeding we present the optical-setup and the data obtained from aerial circular spectropolarimetric measurements of farmland, forests, lakes and urban sites. We make use of the well-calibrated FlyPol instrument that measures the fractionally induced circular polarization (V/I) of (reflected) light with a sensitivity of < 10-4. The instrument operates in the visible spectrum, ranging from 400 to 900 nm. We demonstrate the possibility to distinguish biotic from abiotic features using circular polarization spectra and additional broadband linear polarization information. We review the performance of our optical-setup and discuss potential improvements. This sets the requirements on how to perform future airborne spectropolarimetric measurements of the Earth's surface features from several elevations.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLight in Nature IX
EditorsVasudevan Lakshminarayanan, Katherine Creath, Joseph A. Shaw
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781510654129
Publication statusPublished - 2022
EventLight in Nature IX 2022 - San Diego, United States
Duration: 23 Aug 2022 → …

Publication series

NameProceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering
ISSN (Print)0277-786X
ISSN (Electronic)1996-756X


ConferenceLight in Nature IX 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Diego
Period23/08/22 → …

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project https://www.openaccess.nl/en/you-share-we-take-care
Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


  • Biosignatures
  • Earth observation
  • Field campaign
  • Polarization
  • Remote-sensing
  • Spectropolarimetry


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