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Space Weather Update: 01/24/2016

By, 01/24/2016

WOLF MOON: Can you hear them howl? According to folklore, this weekend's full Moon is the "Wolf Moon," named long ago by Native Americans after the singing packs of wolves they heard during the winter month of January. Look east at sunset and enjoy the Wolf moonlight. [photo gallery]

THE GREAT NAKED-EYE PLANET SHOW: The mainstream media is buzzing with news about astronomy: From now until Feb. 20th, anyone who wakes up before sunrise can see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter all at once, no telescope required. These are the five brightest planets, and they are a beautiful sight lined up from east to west in the predawn sky.


Although the planets can be seen any morning for the next 4 weeks, there are some dates of special interest. As January ends and February unfolds, the Moon will hop from planet to planet, acting as a can't-miss guide for novice sky watchers. The action begins on Jan. 27th when the waning full Moon passes less than 5o from Jupiter: sky map. Next, on Feb. 1st, the half Moon is only a few degrees from the red planet Mars in the constellation Libra: sky map. Two mornings later, on Feb. 3rd, a fat crescent Moon passes by Saturn, only a few degrees away: sky map. And finally, best of all, on Feb. 6th, the slender cresent Moon forms a lovely triangle with Venus and Mercury just ahead of the morning twilight: sky map.

Circle these dates on your calendar--and set your alarm for dawn. The Great Naked-eye Planet Show is a great way to start the day.

Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery

AURORAS AT 60 MPH: Working as a wilderness guide in Inari, FInland, Ville Heimonen has photographed auroras from the motionless solitude of countless natural settings. Last night, he decided to try something different--shooting from the window of a rollicking, fast-moving car:


"One hour before this photo was taken, we saw the brightest aurora of this winter," says Heimonen. "It was incredibly bright, red and fast moving. I took this shot while I was driving home from work. It was little tricky with the bumpy road, but the moonlight helped keep the shutter speed relatively fast."

The display was caused by a stream of solar wind, which has been buffeting Earth's magnetic field for several days. The auroras should subside this weekend as Earth exits the stream. NOAA forecasters have downgraded the odds of a polar geomagnetic storm on Jan. 24th to 15%. Aurora alerts: text or voice.

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

SOLAR ECLIPSE BALLOON NETWORK: and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have developed a balloon payload that can photograph solar eclipses from the stratosphere. This sets the stage for a one-of-a-kind photography experiment: On August 21, 2017, the Moon will pass in front of the sun over the USA, producing a total eclipse visible from coast to coast. We will launch balloons to record the event from a dozen points along the path of totality:


Floating more than 100,000 feet above the clouds, the balloons will have an unobstructed view of the eclipse. From each of a dozen payloads, one camera will point up to record the sun's ghostly corona while another camera points down to record the passage of the Moon's dark shadow across the landscape below. When the eclipse is finished, we will combine the footage to create a unique video portrait of an eclipse sweeping across the American continent.

The payload has already photographed a partial solar eclipse in Oct. 2014: images. To test the payload under conditions of totality, a team of students and parents from Earth to Sky Calculus will travel to Indonesia six weeks from now to observe the March 9, 2016, total eclipse: animated map. Stay tuned for news from their expedition!

Readers, would you like to join the Solar Eclipse Balloon Network? Starting now we are recruiting teams of citizen scientists who we will train in the art of high-altitude ballooning to become members of the solar eclipse launch crews. Schools, scout troops, home school families and others are welcome to apply. This is a great way for novices to learn ballooning and to participate in authentic science. We will also be seeking sponsors for the 12 payloads. Contact Dr. Tony Phillips to register your interest.

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 Jan. 23, 2016, the network reported 5 fireballs.
(5 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 24, 2016 there were potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 AF166

Jan 21

9.3 LD

37 m

2016 BY

Jan 21

3.3 LD

27 m

1685 Toro

Jan 22

60.9 LD

1.7 km

2001 XR1

Jan 23

74.4 LD

1.5 km

2016 BU

Jan 23

5.8 LD

19 m

2015 VC2

Jan 28

5.8 LD

15 m

2016 BE

Feb 1

5.9 LD

101 m

2015 XA379

Feb 7

8.1 LD

38 m

2016 BQ

Feb 7

11.1 LD

19 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

2010 FX9

Mar 19

6.9 LD

62 m


Mar 21

13.9 LD

0 m

1993 VA

Mar 23

59.6 LD

1.6 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: 492.2 km/sec
density: 3.2 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1439 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B6 
1200 UT Jan24 
24-hr: C1 0456 UT Jan24 
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1400 UTDaily Sun: 24 Jan 16None of these sunspots poses a threat for strong flares. Solar activity remains low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 54 
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 24 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 24 Jan 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 99 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 24 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= 3 
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 4.7 nT
Bz: 1.5 nT south 

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1440 UTCoronal Holes: 24 Jan 16 
Solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole could reach Earth as early as Jan. 26. 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: 01-23-2016 16:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Jan 23 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 23 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


10 %

15 %


01 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

20 %


15 %

25 %


15 %

20 %