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Space Weather Update: 01/30/2016

By, 01/30/2016

CANYON OF FIRE: A magnetic filament in the sun's southern hemisphere erupted during the late hours of Jan. 29th. Debris ripped through the sun's lower atmosphere, creating a beautiful 'canyon of fire' more than 100,000 km long. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded a must-see movie of the canyon opening. Solar flare alerts: text or voice

POLAR STRATOSPHERIC CLOUDS OVER THE UK: An outbreak of polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs) is underway--but not around the poles. Sky watchers are reporting the beautifully-colored clouds over the UK. David Porter photographed this specimen on Jan. 29th from his home in Turriff, Aberdeenshire:


"I saw it just before sunrise," says Porter. "The cloud was colorful and highly reflective." Rob Powell of Stonehaven, Scotland, saw them, too. "It was a lovely sunrise," he says.

Also known as "nacreous" or "mother of pearl" clouds, icy PSCs form in the lower stratosphere when temperatures drop to around minus 85ºC. High-altitude sunlight shining through tiny ice particles ~10µm wide produce bright iridescent colors by diffraction and interference. Once thought to be mere curiosities, some PSCs are now known to be associated with the destruction of ozone.

"Nacreous 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

INTENSIFYING COSMIC RAYS: For the past year, neutron monitors around the Arctic Circle have sensed an increasing intensity of cosmic rays. Polar latitudes are a good place to make such measurements, because Earth's magnetic field funnels and concentrates cosmic radiation there. Turns out, Earth's poles aren't the only place cosmic rays are intensifying. and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been launching helium balloons to the stratosphere to measure radiation, and they find the same trend over California:


In the plot, neutron monitor measurements from the University of Oulu Cosmic Ray Station are traced in red; gamma-ray/X-ray measurements over California are denoted in gray. The agreement between the two curves is remarkable. It means that the intensification of cosmic rays is making itself felt not only over the poles, but also over lower latitudes where Earth's magnetic field provides a greater degree of protection against deep space radiation.

Cosmic rays, which are accelerated toward Earth by distant supernova explosions and other violent events, are an important form of space weather. They can seed cloudstrigger lightning, and penetrate commercial airplanes. Indeed, our measurements show that someone flying back and forth across the continental USA, just once, can absorb as much ionizing cosmic radiation as 2 to 5 dental X-rays. Likewise, cosmic rays can affect mountain climbers, high-altitude drones, and astronauts onboard the International Space Station.

This type of radiation is modulated by solar activity. Solar storms and CMEs tend to sweep aside cosmic rays, making it more difficult for cosmic rays to reach Earth. On the other hand, low solar activity allows an extra dose of cosmic rays to reach our planet. Indeed, the ongoing increase in cosmic ray intensity is probably due to a decline in the solar cycle. Solar Maximum has passed and we are heading toward a new Solar Minimum. Forecasters expect solar activity to drop sharply in the years ahead, and cosmic rays are poised to increase accordingly. Stay tuned for more radiation.

HEY, THANKS! The cosmic ray research of Earth to Sky Calculus is 100% crowd-funded. The latest flight on Jan. 24th was sponsored by ABC affiliate KOMO TV of Seattle, Washington. KOMO's donation of $500 paid for all the supplies neccessary to get the high-altitude balloon off the ground. To say "thanks", we flew their logo to the edge of space.


Readers, if you would like to sponsor a balloon mission and see your favorite photo or logo in the stratosphere, please contact Dr.Tony Phillips to book your flight. A less costly way to support this research is to buy an Edge of Space Valentine's Card.

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 Feb. 1st when 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

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 Jan. 30, 2016, the network reported 20 fireballs.
(20 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 30, 2016 there were 1664 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2015 VC2

Jan 28

5.8 LD

15 m

2016 BE

Feb 1

5.9 LD

93 m

2015 XA379

Feb 7

8.1 LD

38 m

2016 BQ

Feb 7

11.1 LD

21 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

2016 BA14

Mar 22

9.4 LD

555 m

1993 VA

Mar 23

59.6 LD

1.6 km

2001 XD

Mar 28

64.5 LD

1.0 km

2016 BC14

Mar 29

9.8 LD

285 m

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. For example, here is the data from a flight on Oct. 22, 2015:

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: 260.3 km/sec
density: 2.8 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1631 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B4 
1159 UT Jan30 
24-hr: B6 0000 UT Jan30 
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1600 UTDaily Sun: 30 Jan 16Sunspot AR2488 is crackling with C-class solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 49 
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 30 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 30 Jan 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux:107 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 30 Jan 2016

Current Auroral Oval:

Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 0 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 1 
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.7 nT
Bz: 0.6 nT north 

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1631 UTCoronal Holes: 29 Jan 16 
Solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole is blowing past Earth. 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: 01-29-2016 15:55:03

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Jan 29 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: 2016 Jan 29 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


10 %

10 %


05 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


20 %

20 %


15 %

15 %