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The Permittivity of Air at a Wavelength of 10 Centimeters*

Summary-This paper reports measurements of the permittivity of moist air under different conditions of pressure, temperature, and water-vapor content taken at a frequency of 3,036 Mc. The method and apparatus used are described. Results of observations made are given, and their probable accuracy is discussed.

HEORETICAL TREATISES'-' have indicated quite clearly that the propagation of very-highfrequency radio energy is intimately connected with the permittivity of the earth's atmosphere, and with the variations in the value of the permittivity with height above the earth's surface. It has been quantitatively demonstrated4 that propagation over land is by a mechanism other than diffraction under both standard5 and nonstandard meteorological conditions. Experimental evidence6-10 indicates that very short radio waves are propagated close to the surface of the earth over distances greatly in excess of the optical distances. There is further evidence1' that energy thus propagated is in the nature of a ground wave as opposed to a sky wave, and that the Kennelly-Heaviside layer of the upper atmosphere plays no part in such propagation. This apparent bending of the radio beam around the curvature of the earth is attributed partly to diffraction, but mainly- to refraction in a lower atmosphere whose refractive index gradient is influenced by its water-vapor

content. As a preliminary to a long-term investigation of the anomalous propagation of ultra-short radio energy over sea paths, it was considered advisable to make accurate determinations of the permittivity of air under different conditions of pressure, temperatuire and watervapor content at, at least, one frequency in the ultrahigh-frequency band. The frequency chosen was of the order of 3,000 megacycles per second. Published results of permittivity measurements2,"3 are confined to frequencies of the order of 50 Mc for dry air at N.T.P., and for water vapor at a temperature of 1000 C; Saxton,'4 however, has published measured values of the permittivity of water vapor at temperatures in the range 1000 C to 215 C, and taken at wavelengths of 9.0, 3.2 and 1.6 cm.


*Decimal classification: R216.3. Original manuscript received by the Institute, August 15, 1949; revised manuscript received, December 22, 1949. t University of Natal, Durban, South Africa. I T. L. Eckersley, "Ultra-short-wave refraction and diffraction,"
2 H. G. Booker, and W. Walkinshaw, "The mode theorv of tropospheric refraction and its relation to wave-guides and diffraction," Meteorological Factors in Radio-Wave Propagation, The Physical Society of London. pp. 80-127; April 8, 1946. 3B. J. Starnecki, "A study of some of the factors influencing microwave propagation," Jour. IEE, Part Illa, vol. 93, p. 106; 1946. 4M. D. Rocco, and J. B. Smyth, "Diffraction of high-frequency radio waves around the earth," PROC. I.R.E., vol. 37, pp. 1195-1203; October, 1949. ' The refracting property of the atmosphere is defined as standard if the index of refraction near the earth is a linear function of elevation and is decreasing at the rate of 1.18 X 10-8 per foot. 6 Marchesse Marconi, "Radio microwaves," Electrician, vol. 110, p. 3; January, 1933. And Proc. Roy. Inst., vol. 27, p. 509; 1933. 7A. G. Clavier, "Production and utilisation of micro-rays," Elec. Comm., vol. 12, p. 3; 1933. And A. G. Clavier and L. C. Gallant, Elec. Comm., vol. 12, p. 222; 1934. 8 C. R. Englund, A. B. Crawford, and W. W. Mumford, "Further results of a study of ultra-short-wave transmission phenomena," Bell Sys. Tech. Jour., vol. 14, p. 369; 1935. 9 E. C. S. Megaw, "Experimental studies of the propagation of very short radio waves," Jour. I.E.E., Part IIIa, vol. 93, p. 79; 1946. lo R. L. Smith-Rose, "A preliminary investigation of radio transmission conditions over land and sea on centimetre wavelengths," Jour. IEE, Part IlIa, vol. 93, p. 98; 1946. 11 H. G. Booker, "Elements of radio meteorology," Jour. IEE, Part IIla, vol. 93, p. 69; 1946.

Jour. IEE, vol. 80, pp. 286-304; March, 1937

A. General The two principal methods available for the measurement of permittivity at radio frequencies are the heterodyne and the standing-wave methods. The former is more suitable at low frequencies, and was used by Tregigda.'2 Thie latter method, which has been used in the present work and which was adopted by Kerr"3 in his determinations, only becomes practicable at high frequencies. Kerr used a length of short-circuited concentric transmission line, coupled to an oscillator, on which standing waves were set up when its electrical length was equal to an integral number of half-wavelengths of the exciting frequency. The permittivity of the gas ke is given by ke= (v/c)2, where c is the phase velocity in a vacuum, and v the phase velocity in the gas forming the dielectric. For a given frequency,

.x-v )

i ., A2


where X,, is the wavelength in a vacuum, and X0, the wavelength in the gas. Thus the permittivity is obtainable from a comparison of the lengths of standing waves set up in the resonant line in a vacuum with their lengths in the gas. In the present work, where measurements are taken with centimeter waves, it was found more expedient to
12 A. C. Tregigda, Phys. Rev., vol. 57, p. 294; 1940. 13 F. J. Kerr, "Refractive indices of gases at high radio frequencies," Proc. Phys. Soc., vol. 55, p. 92; 1943. 14 J. A. Saxton, "The dielectric properties of water vapour at very high radio frequencies," Meteorological Factors in Radio-Wave Propagation, The Physical Society of London, pp. 215-237; April 8,


Phillips: The Permittivity of Air at 10 Centimeters

use a cylindrical cavity resonator. The cavity resonator is superior to the concentric line in that it is mechanically simpler, and the effect of the detector on the position of standing-wave maxima may be eliminated by detecting the existence of standing waves externally to the cavity. The existence of standing waves may be detected by observation of the current magnitude in the transfer circuit between the oscillator and resonator. From a measurement of the resonant wavelengths, at a given exciting frequency and for a given mode of propagation, it was possible to estimate the permittivity of the gas dielectric. B. Method From the well-known theory of propagation in circular section waveguides it can be shown that for a waveguide filled with a dielectric of permittivity ke, the wavelength in the tube, on the assumption that the permeability is unity, is given by

sible from (3) to compute the permittivity of the air in the cavity.

C. Equipment

The experimental setup of the equipment is shown in Fig. 1.





_ ,, _ _ _ _- ---,CAB LEia/





Fig. 1-Circuit diagram.

Xtubemn =

2 cm, (r r mnk2 i__ 27ra,



where X is the free-space wavelength, a is the radius of the waveguide and rmn is the mth root of J.(r) =0, J, being the Bessel function of the first kind and m and n defining the rank of the root and the order of the Bessel function, and hence defining the mode of the transmission of the E or TM wave. For the H or TE wave corresponding roots of (d/dr)J (r) =0 must be used. If X and Xtubemn are measured, ke can be determined from (2). Further, if the tube wavelength in vacuum Xt, is known, as well as the tube wavelength in the dielectric Xt., then X may be eliminated, and the expression for the permittivity becomes

1. Wavemeter. The wavemeter used was of the coaxial cavity type as illustrated in Fig. 2. The central conductor, which extends slightly into the guide, abstracts sufficient energy to set up standing waves; these may be detected by a second pickup connected to a crystal and galvanometer.















Fig. 2 Wavemeter.


ke =

1 r--A(3)

)ta 2


since k, 1 for a vacuum. The tube wavelengths may be obtained by adjusting the length of the cavity until resonance occurs; the length of the cavity will then be an integral number of half-tube wavelengths. The values of Xt. and XtR must be obtained for the same exciting frequency, but the value of this frequency does not occur in (3); therefore, it is not necessary to make an accurate determination of the frequency. The technique employed was to evacuate the cavity and from a plot of the resonance curve to obtain the tube wavelength in vacuum; air was then admitted into the cavity and a resonance curve again obtained, giving the tube-wavelength in air. From these two measurements together with a knowledge of rmn and the radius of the waveguide it was pos-

2. Resonant Cavity. fhe resonant cavity was constructed from a length of circular cross-section copper tubing of 4 inches internal diameter with walls 8 inch thick. To one end of the tube was attached a copper ring, and a copper disk concentric with this was held in position by a polystyrene insulating disk. Such an arrangement forms a suitable means of exciting the Eo type of wave inside the tube. Inserted in the other end of the tube is a movable copper piston attached to a rod sliding in a bush fitted with an airtight gland made integral with the end-plate. The piston is a disk of diameter slightly less than the internal diameter of the tube. Contact with the walls of the tube, is maintained by twenty-four phosphor bronze springs arranged around the periphery of the piston. The end plate carries a micrometer head which may engage with the piston rod through a friction clutch, thus enabling accurate adjustments to be made. Piston displacements were measured by means of a traveling microscope. The whole was rendered airtight by soldering all metallic joints and by applying "dope" to polystyrene-metal joints. Provision was made for exhausting the cavity. Details of construction are given in




vacuum), it suffices to check the constancy of frequency, and also indicates, within very close limits, the actual frequency being used. No absolute measurement of freD. Experimental Technique quency is necessary. 1. General Procedure. After warming up the rectifier Readings of the standing-wave detector were taken and generating tubes, the high-tension dc supply was for different settings of the wavemeter piston, and resonance curves plotted for four consecutive maxima. T |3. Resonant Cavity Measurements. The cavity was _~~__ evacuated to a pressure of 0.01 mm of Hg, and a reso-ff --46-... nance curve along the complete length of the cavity taken by reading detector deflections for different setFig. 3-Resonant cavity (interior) tings of the piston. This was done to ascertain whether there were any propagation anomalies in the cavity, and switched on and the output of the magnetron adjusted to determine the number of complete standing waves in to the desired value. No measurements were taken until the cavity when adjusted to its maximum length. the generator had been in operation for about an hour, Detailed resonance curves in the regions of the fifth after which period it had usually settled down to stable and sixth maxima were then taken, and from a matheconditions of operation. It was found essential to em- matical examination of these curves it was possible to estimate the standing-wavelength to an accuracy better than 0.001 cm. Three vacuum-air runs were taken in succession, and detailed resonance curves at the sixth maximum taken for both vacuum and air. Portions of three of the resonance curves obtained are shown in Fig. 5. The shift in the maximum positions of two consecutive vacuum-air resonance curves divided by the number of

Fig. 3 and the general appearance is shown in Fig. 4.


Fig. 4-Resonant cavity (exterior).

ploy a voltage stabilizing device, of the carbon-pile type, operating in conjunction with the motor-alternator set 1024.-Isupplying power to the magnetron through the assoI Y-AC~~~~~~~ ciated equipment. ACUAM Three sets of frequency measurements were taken at intervals of ten minutes, and if they proved stability of frequency, resonant cavity measurements were taken. Although the frequency does not enter directly into the permittivity relation, frequency measurements were '4 420 7 * 2 SCALE A 5 -6 9 , A SCALE 8 2 3 4 3 PISTON DISPLACEMENT CM. taken periodically throughout a day's run to check maintenance of frequency stability. Fig. 5-Resonance curve. The resonant cavity was then exhausted and standing-wave measurements taken. Dry air was admitted complete standing-waves between the piston and the through a chemical drying system of activated alumina input end of the cavity, is the change in standing waveand phosphorus pentoxide, and standing-wave measure- length due to a change of dielectric from vacuum to air. ments again taken. The cavity was again evacuated and The permittivity of the enclosed air is given from (3) a second vacuum run taken, and so on. On each occasion by three vacuum and three air runs were taken, each run 1 taking about 15 to 20 minutes. In this way frequency + 0.00567695 and temperature drift were practically eliminated. k = 2. Frequency Measurements. The frequency was as+ 0.00567695 certained by determining the positions of successive A2 standing-wave maxima in the concentric line wavemeter which was excited from the magnetron output wave- for the Eol mode of propagation, and for a = 5.08 cm. Dry Air: Air was admitted slowly, into the previously guide. Although the standing wavelength in air is not a the generated energy evacuated cavity, through a chemical drying system. true measure of the frequency of (the phase velocity in air being different from that in Dry Air at Reduced Pressure: Air was admitted slowly,



Phillips: The Permittivity of Air at 10 Centimeters



into previously evacuated cavity through a chemical drying system, until the required pressure was obtained. Saturated Air: Air was admitted slowly, into the previously evacuated cavity, after bubbling through pure water at room temperature. To ensure complete saturation of the air, the air in the cavity was in communication with a water surface during the resonance measurements. Moist Air: Undried room air was admitted into the cavity, and wet and dry bulb thermometer readings taken near the point of admission. The velocity of the air passing into the cavity was kept as low as possible so as to preclude the possibility of any change in the water-vapor content of the air on its passage into the cavity. Water Vapor: A small quantity of pure water was admitted into the evacuated cavity.
E. Experimental Results 1. Frequency Measurement. Resonance measurements in the vicinity of four consecutive maxima gave X = 9.882 + 0.002 cm. 2. Preliminary Exploration of Resonant Cavity. The cavity was exhausted to a pressure of 0.01 mm of Hg and standing-wave measurements taken along its entire length. Average value of 'Xt1 = 7.40 cm Average value of Xt = 14.80 cm.

1.0003934 1.0002789 1.0001298

Pressure (mm Hg)

Temperature (O


555.48 384.00 180.08

22.0 23.0 22.0

5. Permittivity of Air Saturated with Water Vapor. Mean of three determinations ke 1.0008060, at a pressure of 752.45 mm Hg and a temperature of 220 C. 6. Permittivity of Moist Air. Mean of three determinations in each case are shown in Table III.


1.000735 1.000728 1.000687 1.000668

Pressure (mm Hg)

Temperature (O C)
21.3 22.0 19.5 19.0


Relative cent)
88.1 83.3 63.1 55.7

752.40 752.30 755.30 756.45

7. Permittivity of Water Vapor. Mean of three determinations ke= 1.0002577

at a pressure of 21.10 mm Hg and a temperature of Value of Xt. calculated from (2) for rol = 2.405, 23 C. Assuming the Clausius-Mosotti relation this is a = 5.08 cm and X=9.882 cm is 14.805 cm. This value of equivalent to a value at 100 C and 760 mm Hg of Xtv compares favorably with the measured value, and ke= 1.005920. confirms the Eo1 mode of propagation. 3. Permittivity of Dry Air. A typical series of results F. Discussion of Results Individual determinations obtained in subsection 3 is given in Table I. The mean of nine determinations is ke =1.0005548 at a pressure of 759.09 mm of Hg, and showed a maximum variation of 0.002 per cent from the mean. This figure has no real meaning. A better concepa temperature of 25.5 C. 4. Permittivity of Dry A ir at Reduced Pressure. tion of the accuracy of the determinations is given by a Mean of three determinations in each case are shown in consideration of the last four significant figures of the individual permittivity values. The maximum variation Table II.
Series lla 1lb
Time (hrs.)

Temp. C and Pressure

Tube Wavelength (cm)


Vacuum, 1 Air, 1 Vacuum, 2 Air, 2



10.22 to

(mm Hg) 250 C



Shift from Vacuum Mean (cm)


11.03 to

250 C 759.54
250 C 250 C

14. 8051

0 .0095

1 .000573o


11.38 to


lld lle

12.03 to 12.24



0 .0092

1 .0005541

12.36 to 12.54
13.00 to 13.14

25 C 0.011

Air, 3

250 C 759.90




1 .000566o




from the mean is 3.45 per cent. It is considered that a considerable part of this variation is due not to errors in measurement, but to distortion of the wave by slight deformations of the tube and to wave distortions in the proximity of the launching electrodes. The probable error calculated on external consistency is + 0.000021, giving for the permittivity of dry air at a frequency of 3036.43 Mc/sec, 25.2 C and 759.1 mm Hg a value of k, = 1.000555 0.000021.

On the assumption of the Clausius-Mosotti relation this is equivalent to a value at 0 C and 760 mm Hg of k, = 1.000606 0.000023.
From subsection 4 the values of the permittivity of dry air at 00 C and at different pressures, together with the probable error are at 555.8 mm Hg, k,= 1.000425 0.OOOOlo; at 384.0 mm Hg, k.= 1.0003020.000002; at 180.8 mm Hg, k.=1.00014020.0000002. From subsection 5, for air saturated with water vapor at a temperature at 220 C and at a total pressure of 752.5 mm Hg, the value of the permittivity is k = 1.000806 0.000020. In subsection 6 results are given for air containing different amounts of water vapor. The water vapor content is given in terms of relative humidity. The relative humidity was computed from readings of wet and dry bulb thermometers and a correction made for atmospheric pressure. At best, relative humidity values arrived at in this way are very approximate, and any corresponding permittivity measurements, although in themselves comparatively accurate, must be regarded as approximations. The value of the permittivity of saturated water vapor given in subsection 7 has a probable error of 0.0000014, and the value at 100 C and 760 mm Hg is k = 1.00592o 0.000035.

where P is the barometric pressure of moist air in mm of mercury, P. is the pressure of saturated water vapor at absolute temperature TK, and H is the percentage relative humidity. This formula is expected to hold only for frequencies far below all microwave absorption lines and for pressures sufficiently low that interactions between molecules are negligible. Near a resonant frequency, in general, ke becomes complex, as it does also at high pressures, and additivity is expected to break down. In fact, on the resonance peak the absorption coefficient is independent of pressure, until pressure is so low that saturation phenomena are appreciable. In the case of ammonia vapor these phenomena are well known and pronounced. In water vapor, however, Van Vleck5" 6 has shown that although absorption due to the 1.3-cm line is appreciable, there is no appreciable contribution to the real refractive index. He has, in fact, shown that for frequencies even as high as 30,000 Mc the value of ke is not expected to differ from the static value. In the work described in this paper no attempt has been made to measure absorption coefficients.

III. CONCLUSION Measurements have been made of the permittivity of moist air under various conditions of temperature, water vapor content, and pressure. The observed values are consistent with the static values as given by equation (4). The experimental results of the paper confirm previous beliefs regarding the importance of water vapor in the atmosphere on refraction. It xvould appear, then, that an important factor in anomalous propagation with centimeter-wave radio transmission is the variation of the moisture content of the lower atmosphere with height. The work described in this paper was done as a preliminary investigation to the undertaking of a longterm research project on the correlation of microwave propagation phenomena with meteorological conditions off the coast of Natal.
IV. ACKNOWLEDGMENT The work described was carried out with the assistance of an equipment grant from the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
15 J. H. Van Vleck, MIT Rad. Lab. Rep., Nos. 43--2, 1942; and 664, 1945. 16 J. H. Van Vleck and V. Weisskopf, Rev. Mod. Phys., vol. 17, p. 227; 1945.

Applying the linear theorem and adopting methods employed by Englund, Crawford, and Mumford8 the following expression for the permittivity of moist air may be obtained:
ke -1 =
-27r /

P + ~~H 10-1,