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Space Weather Update: 12/30/2015

By, 12/30/2015

AURORAS LIKELY THIS WEEK: 2015 could end with an outburst of auroras. NOAA forecasters say there is a 60% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on Dec. 30th when a CME (described below) is expected to hit Earth's magnetic field. There is an equal 60% chance that the storms will spill over into Dec. 31st, New Year's Eve. Aurora alerts: text or voice

SUNSPOT ERUPTS, HURLS CME TOWARD EARTH: After several days of pent-up quiet, big sunspot AR2473 erupted on Dec. 28th (12:49 UT), producing a slow but powerful M1.9-class solar flare. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the blast's extreme ultraviolet glow:

For more than an hour, UV radiation from the flare bathed the top of Earth's atmosphere, ionizing atoms and molecules. This, in turn, disrupted the normal propagation of shortwave radio signals on the dayside of our planet. A NOAAblackout map shows the affected area. Ham radio operators, mariners and aviators in South America, Africa and the south Atlantic Ocean may have noticed fades and blackouts of transmissions below 20 MHz.

The slow explosion also produced a coronal mass ejection (CME). Images from the Solar and Heliospheric Obseratory (SOHO) show a ragged, full-halo CME heading almost directly toward Earth:


NOAA analysts have modeled this CME, and they say it could reach Earth as early as Dec. 30th, with a 60% chance of polar geomagnetic storms when the CME arrives. Maximum storm levels are expected to be in the range G1 to G2.

Sunspot AR2473 has an unstable 'beta-delta' magnetic field that could explode again in the hours ahead. NOAA forecasters estimate a 50% chance of additionalM-class flares and a 10% chance of X-flares on Dec. 29th. Solar flare alerts: textor voice

Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery

POLAR STRATOSPHERIC CLOUDS: Yesterday evening, Dec. 28th, Marcus Åhlund was whale watching with Explore the Arctic off the coast of Tromsö, Norway, when the darkening sky suddenly lit up with color. It wasn't the aurora borealis. It was a polar stratospheric cloud:


"Look carefully at the picture," says Åhlund. "The whale is there, too!"

Lately, Arctic sky watchers have been seeing a lot of PSCs. Also known as "nacreous" or "mother of pearl" clouds, icy PSCs form in the lower stratosphere when temperatures drop to around minus 85ºC. That's how cold it has to be for ice to crystalize in the stratosphere. High-altitude sunlight shining through tiny ice particles ~10µm across produce the characteristic bright iridescent colors by diffraction and interference. Once thought to be mere curiosities, some PSCs are now known to be associated with the destruction of ozone.

"Polar stratospheric clouds far outshine and have much more vivid colours thanordinary iridescent clouds, which are very much poor relations and seen frequently all over the world," writes atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley. "Once seen they are never forgotten."

The best time to look for PSCs is just before sunrise or right after sunset, when the ground is dark but the upper atmosphere is still illuminated by sunlight. Or, you can see them any time in the realtime photo gallery:

Realtime PSC Photo Gallery

ARMY OF GREEN MEN -- IN SPACE: On Dec. 20th, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus launched their weekly helium balloon to measure cosmic radiation in Earth's atmosphere. This time, there were 56 hitchikers--a platoon of green army men:


Their mission: to raise awareness of spinal cord injuries. ‪‬#QuaidsArmy sponsored the flight. On September 20th, 2013, twenty-four year old Quaid Mobus of Warren NJ was in a near fatal ATV accident the night before his sister's wedding. Quaid was left paralyzed, requiring extensive lifelong medical attention. Since then, the Army of Green Men have been traveling far and wide to support Quaid and others like him. Dec. 20th marked their first trip to the stratosphere. Learn more at

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

Realtime Meteor Photo Gallery

Realtime Comet Photo Gallery

 All Sky Fireball Network

Every night, a network of NASA all-sky cameras scans the skies above the United States for meteoritic fireballs. Automated software maintained by NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office calculates their orbits, velocity, penetration depth in Earth's atmosphere and many other characteristics. Daily results are presented here on

On Dec. 29, 2015, the network reported 17 fireballs.
(17 sporadics)



In this diagram of the inner solar system, all of the fireball orbits intersect at a single point--Earth. The orbits are color-coded by velocity, from slow (red) to fast (blue). [Larger image] [movies]


 Near Earth Asteroids

Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are space rocks larger than approximately 100m that can come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU. None of the known PHAs is on a collision course with our planet, although astronomers are finding new ones all the time.

On December 30, 2015 there were 1647 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2003 SD220

Dec 24

28.4 LD

1.8 km

2008 CM

Dec 29

22.8 LD

1.5 km

2015 XV351

Dec 29

5.3 LD

28 m

2015 XC352

Dec 30

5.2 LD

30 m

2015 YT1

Dec 31

13.5 LD

17 m

2004 MQ1

Jan 2

55.4 LD

1.1 km

1999 JV6

Jan 6

12.6 LD

410 m

2015 YC2

Jan 15

4.9 LD

101 m

1685 Toro

Jan 22

60.9 LD

1.7 km

2001 XR1

Jan 23

74.4 LD

1.5 km

2015 VC2

Jan 28

5.8 LD

15 m

2015 XA379

Feb 7

8.1 LD

33 m

2013 VA10

Feb 7

8.5 LD

165 m

2014 QD364

Feb 7

14 LD

16 m

2014 EK24

Feb 14

13.8 LD

94 m

2010 LJ14

Feb 16

68.5 LD

1.2 km

Notes: LD means "Lunar Distance." 1 LD = 384,401 km, the distance between Earth and the Moon. 1 LD also equals 0.00256 AU. MAG is the visual magnitude of the asteroid on the date of closest approach.

 Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere

Situation Report -- Oct. 30, 2015Stratospheric Radiation (+37o N)

Cosmic ray levels are elevated(+6.1% above the Space Age median). The trend is flat. Cosmic ray levels have increased +0% in the past month.

Sept. 06: 4.14 uSv/hr (414 uRad/hr)

Sept. 12: 4.09 uSv/hr (409 uRad/hr)

Sept. 23: 4.12 uSv/hr (412 uRad/hr)

Sept. 25: 4.16 uSv/hr (416 uRad/hr)

Sept. 27: 4.13 uSv/hr (413 uRad/hr)

Oct. 11: 4.02 uSv/hr (402 uRad/hr)

Oct. 22: 4.11 uSv/hr (411 uRad/hr)

These measurements are based on regular space weather balloon flights: learn more.

Approximately once a week, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus fly "space weather balloons" to the stratosphere over California. These balloons are equipped with radiation sensors that detect cosmic rays, a surprisingly "down to Earth" form of space weather. Cosmic rays can seed cloudstrigger lightning, and penetrate commercial airplanes. Our measurements show that someone flying back and forth across the continental USA, just once, can absorb as much ionizing radiation as 2 to 5 dental X-rays. Here is the data from our latest flight, Oct. 22nd:

Radiation levels peak at the entrance to the stratosphere in a broad region called the "Pfotzer Maximum." This peak is named after physicist George Pfotzer who discovered it using balloons and Geiger tubes in the 1930s. Radiation levels there are more than 80x sea level.

Note that the bottom of the Pfotzer Maximim is near 55,000 ft. This means that some high-flying aircraft are not far from the zone of maximum radiation. Indeed, according to the Oct 22th measurements, a plane flying at 45,000 feet is exposed to 2.79 uSv/hr. At that rate, a passenger would absorb about one dental X-ray's worth of radiation in about 5 hours.

The radiation sensors onboard our helium balloons detect X-rays and gamma-rays in the energy range 10 keV to 20 MeV. These energies span the range of medical X-ray machines and airport security scanners.

Current Conditions

Solar wind
speed: 369.2 km/sec
density: 5.8 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1329 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B4 
1244 UT Dec30 
24-hr: B9 0613 UT Dec30 
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1300 UTDaily Sun: 29 Dec 15Sunspot AR2473 has a 'beta-delta' magnetic field that harbors energy forM-class solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 54 
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 29 Dec 2015

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2015 total: 0 days (0%) 

2014 total: 1 day (<1%)
2013 total: 0 days (0%)
2012 total: 0 days (0%)
2011 total: 2 days (<1%)
2010 total: 51 days (14%)
2009 total: 260 days (71%)

Updated 29 Dec 2015

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 112 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 29 Dec 2015

Current Auroral Oval:

Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 1 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 2 
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.1 nT
Bz: 2.2 nT south 

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1329 UTCoronal Holes: 29 Dec 15 
Solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole could reach Earth on Jan. 1-3. Credit: SDO/AIA.Noctilucent Clouds The southern season for noctilucent clouds began on Dec. 13, 2015. The coverage of NLCs over Antarctica is rapidly multiplying as 2016 approaches.

Switch view: Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula, East Antarctica, PolarUpdated at: 12-29-2015 16:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2015 Dec 29 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


50 %

50 %


10 %

10 %

Geomagnetic Storms:
Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth's magnetic field are given for three activity levels: activeminor stormsevere stormUpdated at: 2015 Dec 29 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

45 %


35 %

30 %


50 %

05 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


01 %

05 %


10 %

20 %


90 %

70 %