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Space Weather Update: 12/08/2015

By, 12/08/2015

POLAR GEOMAGNETIC STORMS: Earth is moving through a broad stream of solar wind flowing from a coronal hole on the sun. As a result, auroras are dancing around the Arctic Circle. Photographer Ruslan Merzlyakov saw the show, last night, from the window seat of an airplane flying over the Barents Sea:


"We were just south of Svalbard when the auroras appeared," says Merzlyakov. "It was the best flight ever."

Earth will remain under the influence of this solar wind stream for the next two or three days. During that time, polar geomagnetic storm probabilities are as high as 50%, according to NOAA. If you're flying at high latitudes this week, be sure to grab a window seat. Aurora alerts: text or voice

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

SUNDIVING COMET: By the time you finish reading this news item, the solar system could have one less comet. Yesterday, Dec. 7th, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spotted a comet diving toward the sun, vaporizing furiously:



The comet is a member of the Kreutz family--fragments from the breakup of a single giant comet many centuries ago. They get their name from 19th century German astronomer Heinrich Kreutz, who studied them in detail. Several Kreutz fragments pass by the sun and disintegrate every day. Most, measuring less than a few meters across, are too small to see, but occasionally a bigger fragment like this one (~10 m to 50 m) attracts attention.

The next batch of SOHO images on Dec. 8th will likely reveal no comet. The icy nuclei of Kreutz sungrazers rarely survive their encounters with solar heat.

Because of their common parentage, sungrazers often come in clusters. For this reason, it wouldn't be surprising to find yet another one in the offing. Monitor Karl Battam's Sungrazing Comet twitter feed for more sightings.

Realtime Comet Photo Gallery

DAYTIME OCCULTATION OF VENUS: On Monday, Dec. 7th, people in North America saw something remarkable in the daytime sky: the crescent Moon passed directly in front of Venus and covered it. Moments before the second planet disappeared, David Pinsky of West Hollywood CA took this picture:


"This was the view through my Canon Rebel T3i digital camera placed at the prime focus of a Celestron 5 inch Maksutov telescope," says Pinsky.

Venus remained behind the Moon for more than an hour, then popped into view again on the opposite lunar limb. The convergence of the Moon and Venus were plainly visible to the unaided eye from Canada, Mexico, and 49 of 50 US States. Only Hawaii was left out. Browse the gallery for more beautiful views from theoccultation zone:

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery

Realtime Meteor 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. 7, 2015, the network reported 20 fireballs.
(11 sporadics, 4 sigma Hydrids, 3 Geminids, 1 Quadrantid, 1 November omega Orionid)



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 8, 2015 there were 1637 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2015 XP

Dec 5

1.4 LD

31 m

2015 WA13

Dec 6

7.5 LD

24 m

2015 WF13

Dec 7

10.8 LD

80 m

2015 VZ145

Dec 8

9.2 LD

80 m

2015 XC

Dec 8

3.3 LD

39 m

2015 XV1

Dec 9

6.4 LD

18 m

1998 WT24

Dec 11

10.9 LD

1.1 km

2015 XN55

Dec 15

2.5 LD

15 m

2015 XE1

Dec 19

13.2 LD

28 m

2011 YD29

Dec 24

9.7 LD

24 m

2003 SD220

Dec 24

28.4 LD

1.8 km

2008 CM

Dec 29

22.8 LD

1.5 km

2004 MQ1

Jan 2

55.4 LD

1.1 km

1999 JV6

Jan 6

12.6 LD

410 m

1685 Toro

Jan 22

60.9 LD

1.7 km

2001 XR1

Jan 23

74.4 LD

1.5 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: 532.6 km/sec
density: 2.2 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1509 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B4 
1317 UT Dec08 
24-hr: B4 1317 UT Dec08 
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1500 UTDaily Sun: 08 Dec 15None of these sunspots has the type of unstable magnetic field that poses a threat for strong flares. Solar activity remains low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 50 
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 08 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 08 Dec 2015

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 101 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 08 Dec 2015

Current Auroral Oval:

Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 2 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 4 
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 4.7 nT
Bz: 1.4 nT north 

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1508 UTCoronal Holes: 08 Dec 15 
Earth is inside a broad stream of solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole. Credit: SDO/AIA.Noctilucent Clouds The southern season for noctilucent clouds is about to begin. Monitor the daily daisies, below, from NASA's AIM spacecraft for the first wisps of electric blue above Antarctica.

Switch view: Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula, East Antarctica, PolarUpdated at: 12-07-2015 16:55:03

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2015 Dec 07 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


05 %

10 %


01 %

01 %

Geomagnetic Storms:
Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth's magnetic field are given for three activity levels: activeminor stormsevere stormUpdated at: 2015 Dec 07 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


35 %

30 %


15 %

10 %


05 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


10 %

15 %


30 %

30 %


50 %

40 %