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Space Weather Update: 01/01/2016

By, 01/01/2016

NEW YEAR'S GEOMAGNETIC STORM: A G2-class geomagnetic storm is in progress on Jan. 1st, sparking the first auroras of the New Year. In Glenfarg, Scotland, fireworks exploded against a backdrop of green:


"Our neighbours let off some fireworks for the New Year," says photographer Stuart Walker. "They were modest compared to the organised display in Edinburgh, but looked great alongside the ongoing aurora."

This storm is the result of a CME strike on New Year's Eve (Dec. 31 @ 00:30 UT). At first the CME's impact had little effect. Indeed, we initially ruled it a "dud." But as Earth moved deeper into the CME's wake, solar wind conditions shifted to favor a storm.

Sky watchers in both hemispheres are now reporting colorful lights. Taichi Nakamura sends this picture from Dunedin, New Zealand:


"It was a beautiful treat to see the auroras kick off the New Year," says Nakamura. "The display began after midnight and kept glowing with waves and beams until the twilight painted light over the aurora. It is summer now in New Zealand and my four year old son was delighted to come with me as it is warm even at night."

Those were the first auroras of 2016. Now for seconds: NOAA forecasters estimate a 75% chance of more polar geomagnetic storms on Jan. 1st, subsiding to 45% on Jan. 2nd as Earth moves through the wake of the CME. Aurora alerts: text or voice

Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery

POLAR STRATOSPHERIC CLOUDS: Earth's stratosphere is *not* a cloudy place. On rare occasions, however, during the coldest weeks of northern winter, tiny crystals of ice in the stratosphere gather themselves into swarms called "PSCs"--polar stratospheric clouds. On Dec. 29th, Frank Olsen photographed a rare PSC floating over Sortland, Norway:


"The pastel-colored clouds appeared alongside some faint green auroras," says Olsen. "I have never seen PSCs and auroras together before."

Also known as "nacreous" or "mother of pearl" clouds, 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 dry stratosphere.

"I took the picture around 6 p.m., long after sunset," continues Olsen. "This makes me wonder if the rising moon, just below the horizon, is what illuminated the PSCs."

High-altitude sunlight--or, in this case, moonlight--shining through tiny ice particles ~10µm across produce the characteristic bright iridescent colors of PSCs. "Polar stratospheric clouds far outshine and have much more vivid colours than ordinary 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."

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. 31, 2015, the network reported 15 fireballs.
(14 sporadics, 1 December Leonis Minorid)



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 January 1, 2016 there were 1647 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2015 YV9

Dec 26

9.4 LD

32 m

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

95 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

1999 YK5

Feb 19

51.7 LD

2.0 km

2010 WD1

Feb 22

12.3 LD

22 m

1991 CS

Feb 23

65.5 LD

1.4 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: 406.4 km/sec
density: 0.7 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1319 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: C2 
0948 UT Jan01 
24-hr: C2 0948 UT Jan01 
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1300 UTDaily Sun: 31 Dec 15Sunspot AR2473 is decaying and no longer has the type of unstable magnetic field that harbors energy for very strong flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 18 
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 31 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 30 Dec 2015

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 102 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 31 Dec 2015

Current Auroral Oval:

Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 3 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 6 
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 8.8 nT
Bz: 1.0 nT north 

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1319 UTCoronal Holes: 31 Dec 15 
Solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole could reach Earth on Jan. 2-3. 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: 12-31-2015 16:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2015 Dec 31 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


20 %

20 %


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 31 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


35 %

30 %


35 %

15 %


20 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


05 %

15 %


20 %

30 %


75 %

45 %