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Space Weather Update: 01/17/2016

By, 01/17/2016

AURORA ALERT: Delayed imagery from SOHO has revealed a CME that left the sun on Jan. 15, propelled by the eruption of a magnetic filament in the sun's southern hemisphere. NOAA storm tracks suggest that the CME could deliver a weak glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field on Jan. 19th. Arctic sky watchers should be alert for auroras after nightfall on Tuesday. Solar flare alerts: text orvoice.

COMET CATALINA CLOSEST APPROACH TO EARTH: Discovered in 2013 by the Catalina Sky Survey, Comet Catalina (C/2013 US10) is making a one-time trip through the inner solar system. It swung around the sun last November and is now making its closest approach to Earth: 67 million miles away on Jan. 17th. Dr. Fritz Helmut Hemmerich sends this picture from Tenerife, Canary Islands:


"This is Comet Catalina (C2013US10) during a cloudy morning session on Jan. 16th," says Hemmerich. "I thought the photo could be useful as a finder chart. As the inset shows, the comet is located near the handle of the Big Dipper."

The 6th magnitude comet is too dim for the naked eye, but it is an easy target for backyard telescopes and digital cameras. In fact, Hemmerich's photo was taken using no telescope, just a Sony A7s camera set at ISO3200 for a 45 second exposure.

This is Comet Catalina's first visit to the inner solar system--and its last. The comet's close encounter with the sun in mid-November has placed it on a slingshot trajectory toward interstellar space. Enjoy it now. Once it recedes from Earth, we may never see it again. Browse the realtime comet gallery for more sightings.

Realtime Comet Photo Gallery

STREET MAPS IN THE SKY: Winter is unfolding around the northern hemisphere and, as temperatures drop, pillars of light are springing up from ground. Urban lights bounce off ice crystals in the air, producing luminous columns that reach into the heavens. Such "light pillars" are a common sight around northern cities in winter. On Jan. 12th, however, Mia Heikkilä looked up from her hometown in Eura, Finland, and saw something uncommon. "There was a street map of Kauttua painted in the sky!" she says. Heikkilä took this picture of the apparition:


"It was an exact reversed light map of Kauttua, Eura, created by light pillars," Heikkilä explains.

Most people see pillars from the side, where they look like luminous towers, but not Heikkilä. She was located inside a nest of pillars rising from the center of town. Looking up, she saw the tips of the pillars tracing the illuminated streets of Kauttua. In fact, the sky map was even better than the printed map Heikkilä used for comparison, because it traced the most recent changes to the cityscape. "Now I call it #LuxEura," she says.

Note: These observations were first published in Tähdet ja avaruus magazine.

Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery

Realtime Aurora 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 Jan. 16, 2016, the network reported 13 fireballs.
(13 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 January 17, 2016 there were 1652 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 AB166

Jan 12

3.2 LD

54 m

2016 AH164

Jan 12

0.07 LD

5 m

2016 AN165

Jan 13

0.5 LD

13 m

2016 AN164

Jan 14

0.1 LD

4 m

2015 YC2

Jan 15

4.9 LD

88 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

38 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

2011 EH17

Mar 1

11.1 LD

52 m

2013 TX68

Mar 5

1.3 LD

38 m

2001 PL9

Mar 9

77.6 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: 329.1 km/sec
density: 2.4 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1031 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B2 
0843 UT Jan17 
24-hr: B2 0843 UT Jan17 
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1000 UTDaily Sun: 17 Jan 16Not one of these sunspots poses a threat for strong flares. Solar activity remains low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 38 
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 17 Jan 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 0 days (0%) 
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 17 Jan 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 100 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 17 Jan 2016

Current Auroral Oval:

Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 2 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 2 
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 4.9 nT
Bz: 4.1 nT south 

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1030 UTCoronal Holes: 17 Jan 16 
There are no large coronal holes on the Earthside of the sun. 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 in 2016.

Switch view: Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula, East Antarctica, PolarUpdated at: 01-16-2016 21:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Jan 16 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


05 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

Geomagnetic Storms:
Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth's magnetic field are given for three activity levels: activeminor stormsevere stormUpdated at: 2016 Jan 16 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


10 %

20 %


05 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


20 %

25 %


20 %

25 %