Optical aurora can be structured over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales with spectral features that depend on the energy of precipitating particles. Scientific studies typically combine data from multiple instruments that are individually optimized for spatial, spectral, or temporal resolution. One recent addition combines all-sky optics with color mosaic CCD (charge-coupled device) detectors that use a matrix of different wide-band micro-filters to produce an image with several (often three) color channels. These devices provide sequences of two dimensional multispectral luminosity with simultaneous exposure of all color channels allowing interchannel comparison even during periods with rapidly varying aurora. At present color auroral image data are primarily used for qualitative analysis. In this study a quantitative approach based on Backus–Gilbert linear inversion was used to better understand the effective spectral resolution of existing and proposed instruments.
Two spectrally calibrated commercial detectors (Sony ICX285AQ and ICX429AKL) with very different color mosaics (RGB (red, green, blue) vs. CYGM (cyan, yellow, green, magenta)) were found to have very similar spectral resolution: three channels with FWHM (full-width half-maximum) ≈100 nm; a NIR (near infrared) blocking filter is important for stabilizing inversion of both three-channel configurations. Operating the ICX429AKL in a noninterlaced mode would improve spectral resolution and provide an additional near infrared channel. Transformations from arbitrary device channels to RGB are easily obtained through inversion. Simultaneous imaging of multiple auroral emissions may be achieved using a single-color camera with a triple-pass filter. Combinations of multiple cameras with simple filters should provide ~50 nm resolution across most of the visible spectrum. Performance of other instrument designs could be explored and compared using the same quantitative framework.