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Space Weather Update: 01/06/2016

By, 01/06/2016

CME MISSES EARTH... A coronal mass ejection (CME) expected to hit Earth on Jan. 3-4 did not. It appears to have missed, sailing wide of our planet. As a result, NOAA forecasters have downgraded the chance of a geomagnetic storm on Jan. 5th to 25%. Aurora alerts: text or voice

...BUT A STORM IS COMING ANYWAY: A broad hole has opened up in the sun's atmosphere, and it is spewing solar wind toward Earth. This is called a "coronal hole." It is the deep blue-colored region in this extreme UV image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory:


Coronal holes are places in the sun's atmosphere where the sun's magnetic field opens up and allows solar wind to escape. White arrows indicate solar wind plasma flowing into space.

A stream of solar wind flowing from this coronal hole could reach Earth as early as Jan. 6th. According to NOAA forecasters, there is a 60% chance of G1-classgeomagnetic storms when the solar wind arrives. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras on Jan. 6-7. Aurora alerts: text or voice

Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery

QUADRANTID METEOR BALLOON: When the annual Quadrantid meteor showerpeaked on Jan. 4th, the skies of Spain were cloudy, and rain was falling on astronomers at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM). Determined to see the shower no matter what, they launched a helium balloon to the stratosphere where the sky way clear. "For the first time ever," reports UCM astronomy postdoc Alejandro Sánchez de Miguel, "we have photographed Quadrantid meteors from the stratosphere--in color and HD." Their video captured as many as half-a-dozen Quadrantids:


The Quadrantids are notoriously difficult to photograph. The meteors are typically faint; moreover, the shower peaks in early January when winter weather often blocks the view of northern skies. The UCM group's successful capture of Quadrantids high above the clouds is a significant accomplishment.

According to Sánchez, there are three good reasons to observe meteor showers using balloons:

"First, the stratosphere is a place where we can avoid bad weather. Lately we have been having terrible weather in Spain!"

"Second, the stratosphere is so transparent. That means we can point our cameras at the horizon and sample a large volume of atmosphere, and capture the maximum number of meteors."

"Third, the stratosphere gives us a new point of view that we can use to calculate meteoroid orbits with higher precision." and Earth to Sky Calculus recently observed the Geminid meteor shower from the stratosphere using a helium balloon of their own: full story. Perhaps a transcontinental collaboration is in the offing. Stay tuned for more pictures from the edge of space.

Realtime Meteor 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. 5, 2016, the network reported 65 fireballs.
(47 sporadics, 17 Quadrantids, 1 lambda Bootid)



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 6, 2016 there were 1648 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


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

45 m

1999 JV6

Jan 6

12.6 LD

410 m

2015 YC2

Jan 15

4.9 LD

88 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: 595.5 km/sec
density: 1.7 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1229 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: C1 
1137 UT Jan06 
24-hr: C1 1137 UT Jan06 
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1200 UTDaily Sun: 05 Jan 16None of these sunspots poses a threat for strong flares. Solar activity is low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 29 
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 05 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 05 Jan 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 95 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 05 Jan 2016

Current Auroral Oval:

Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 3 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 5 
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.6 nT
Bz: 3.1 nT north 

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1230 UTCoronal Holes: 05 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: 01-05-2016 16:55:03

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Jan 05 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 05 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


40 %

40 %


25 %

20 %


05 %

05 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


10 %

10 %


25 %

30 %


60 %

60 %