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Space Weather Update: 01/18/2016

By, 01/18/2106

CHANCE OF STORMS: On Jan. 15th, a magnetic filament in the sun's southern hemisphere exploded. Debris from the blast formed a CME that could sideswipe Earth's magnetic on Jan. 18-19. NOAA forecasters say there is a 45% chance of minor geomagnetic storms when the storm cloud arrives. Arctic sky watchers should be alert for auroras on Monday and Tuesday nights. Aurora 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. 17-18. Yasushi Aoshima sends this picture from Shizuoka, Japan:


"I caught the comet just as it was passing Pinwheel Galaxy M101," says Aoshima. The full-sized image also shows the double star system Mizar and Alcor in the handle of the Big Dipper. Aoshima notes a discontinuity in the comet's gaseous ion tail, labeled here. "That is a drastic change since my last imaging session," says Aoshima. It is probably a sign that the tail is being buffeted and deformed by irregularities in the solar wind.

The 6th magnitude comet is too dim for the naked eye, but it is an easy target for backyard telescopes and digital cameras. (Aoshima used a Canon EOS 6D digital camera set at 12800 ISO for a 51x30sec exposure.) An ephemeris from the Minor Planet Center shows where to point your optics.

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. 17, 2016, the network reported 4 fireballs.
(4 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 18, 2016 there were potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 AN164

Jan 14

0.1 LD

4 m

2015 YC2

Jan 15

4.9 LD

88 m

2016 AF166

Jan 21

9.3 LD

37 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: 295.8 km/sec
density: 2.0 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1401 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B2 
1007 UT Jan18 
24-hr: B3 0507 UT Jan18 
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1300 UTDaily Sun: 18 Jan 16Not one of these sunspots poses a threat for strong flares. Solar activity remains low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 48 
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 18 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 18 Jan 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 101 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 18 Jan 2016

Current Auroral Oval:

Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 1 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 1 
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 6.6 nT
Bz: 3 nT south 

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1400 UTCoronal Holes: 18 Jan 16 
A stream of solar wind flowing from this southern coronal hole could reach Earth as early as Jan. 22. 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: 01-17-2016 16:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Jan 17 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


01 %

01 %


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 17 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


20 %

35 %


05 %

15 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


25 %

30 %


25 %

45 %