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Space Weather Update: 01/31/2016

By, 01/31/2016

MOON-HOPPING: Five planets are lined up in the morning sky, and the Moon is hopping from one to the next. On Monday morning, Feb. 1st, the Moon visits Mars. Wake up an hour before dawn and look east for a loose lunar conjunction with the Red Planet: sky map.

This weekend, Rob Ratkowski woke up early and caught the Moon hopping from Jupiter to Mars. He sends this picture from the Haleakala Summit of Maui in the Hawaiian island chain:


"The line up was quite nice and, along with mild temperatures and winds, the brightening sky showed Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island in silhouette," says Ratkowski.

To take the picture, Ratkowski used a Nikon D700 digital camera with a 16mm Fisheye lens set at iso800 (f5.6) for a 15 second exposure. Other photographers may wish to take note of those settings, because the photo-ops are just beginning.

On Feb. 1st the half Moon is only a few degrees from 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 crescent Moon forms a lovely triangle with Venus and Mercury: 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

ENORMOUS PROMINENCE, POISED TO ERUPT: Around the world, astronomers are monitoring a prominence of jaw-dropping proportions hovering over the sun's southeastern limb. It is located in the lower left corner of this picture, taken by Jim Fakatselis of Huntington, NY:


Earth, inserted for comparison in the upper right, is a veritable speck!

"I was really floored by the massive size of the prominence," says Larry Alvarez of Flower Mound, TX, who also photographed the structure. "It looked like a giant smoke stack billowing out solar material."

Fakatselis made a two hour video,which captures the smokey motions of plasma trapped inside the prominence's magnetic walls: play it.

Prominences like this one are highly unstable. Astronomers with backyard solar telescopes should train their optics on the sun's southeastern limb. An eruption may be imminent. Solar flare alerts: text or voice

Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery

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

Realtime Aurora 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 31, 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

87 m

2016 BA15

Feb 1

2.9 LD

19 m

2015 XA379

Feb 7

8.1 LD

38 m

2016 BQ

Feb 7

11.1 LD

21 m

2014 QD364

Feb 7

14 LD

16 m

2013 VA10

Feb 8

12.5 LD

165 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

9.3 LD

550 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

9.9 LD

280 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: 275.7 km/sec
density: 3.4 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1420 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B6 
1002 UT Jan31 
24-hr: B6 1002 UT Jan31 
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1400 UTDaily Sun: 31 Jan 16Sunspot AR2488 is crackling with C-class solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 30 
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 31 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 31 Jan 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux:105 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 31 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= 3 
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 7.6 nT
Bz: 6.9 nT south 

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1421 UTCoronal Holes: 31 Jan 16 
Solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole should reach Earth on ~Feb. 4th. 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: 01-30-2016 16:55:03

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Jan 30 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 30 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


10 %

15 %


05 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

20 %


20 %

25 %


15 %

20 %