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Space Weather Update: 01/04/2016

By, 01/04/2016

CHANCE OF STORMS, DELAYED: NOAA forecasters estimate a 40% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on Jan. 4th in response to the impact of a late-arriving CME. The storm cloud was originally expected to reach Earth on Jan. 3rd, but it is approaching us more slowly than previously thought. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras after nightfall on Monday. Aurora alerts: text or voice

QUADRANTID METEOR SHOWER: Today, Jan. 4th, Earth is moving through a stream of debris from shattered comet 2003 EH1, source of the annual Quadrantid meteor shower. So far, there have been few reports of visual sightings--perhaps a result of cloudy winter weather in the northern hemisphere. Canada's Meteor Orbit Radar (CMOR) can see through the clouds, and radar maps show the shower is active:


The circled 'hot spot' near the handle of the Big Dipper shows where CMOR is detecting echoes from meteoroids hitting Earth's atmosphere. This is the radiant of the Quadrantid meteor shower.

According to the International Meteor Organization, the shower is supposed to peak on Monday morning, Jan. 4th, during the hours around 0800 UT (3 a.m. ET). This timing nominally favors observers in North America. However, the peak is brief, typically lasting no more than an hour or so, and it does not always occur at the forecasted time. Observers everywhere are encouraged to be alert for meteors throughout the early hours of January 4th. [photo gallery]

Got clouds? Cozy up by the fire and listen to Quadrantid radar echoes on Space Weather Radio.

Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery

AURORAS ON ICE: A CME expected to hit Earth on Jan. 3rd has not yet arrived. Northern sky watchers are seeing auroras anyway. John Ashley sends this picture from Polebridge, Montana:


"Northern lights put in a brief appearance before moonrise this morning over northwestern Montana," reports Ashley. "Light beams over Glacier National Park reflected nicely in the icy North Fork River at a balmy -4 degrees F."

"The lights were visible for less than an hour," he says, "faint enough that I could not detect any color with my old eyes. My camera was more effective, picking up yellow and magenta, but interestingly none of our most common color, green."

To photograph these faint but lovely auroras, Ashley used a Nikon D750 digital camera set at ISO 3200 (f2.5) for a 25 second exposure. Other photographers may wish to take note of those settings because more auroras are in the offing. NOAA forecasters estimate a 40% chance of geomagnetic storms on Jan. 4th, waning to 25% on Jan. 5th. Aurora alerts: text or voice

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

Realtime Comet Photo Gallery

Realtime Meteor Photo Gallery

Realtime PSC 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. 3, 2016, the network reported 19 fireballs.
(15 sporadics, 3 December Leonis Minorids, 1 Quadrantid)



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 4, 2016 there were 1648 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2015 YT1

Dec 31

13.5 LD

17 m

2004 MQ1

Jan 2

55.4 LD

1.1 km

2016 AE2

Jan 2

12.8 LD

23 m

2015 YC10

Jan 4

10.4 LD

46 m

1999 JV6

Jan 6

12.6 LD

410 m

2015 YC2

Jan 15

4.9 LD

94 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

36 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

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: 443.4 km/sec
density: 3.8 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1229 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B4 
0621 UT Jan04 
24-hr: B4 0621 UT Jan04 
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1200 UTDaily Sun: 04 Jan 16None of these sunspots poses a threat for strong flares. Solar activity is low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 50 
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 04 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 04 Jan 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 102 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 04 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= 3 
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.1 nT
Bz: 3.3 nT north 

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1230 UTCoronal Holes: 04 Jan 16 
Solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole could reach Earth on Jan. 6-7. 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 as 2016 approaches.

Switch view: Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula, East Antarctica, PolarUpdated at: 01-03-2016 16:55:03

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Jan 03 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 03 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


30 %

15 %


10 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


30 %

25 %


40 %

25 %