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Space Weather Update: 01/09/2016

By, 01/09/2016

VENUS AND SATURN CONVERGE: Set your alarm for dawn. On Saturday morning, Jan. 9th, Venus and Saturn will converge before sunrise in the eastern sky for a take-your-breath-away conjunction. As seen from Europe, the two planets will be mere 0.1° apart. The view from North America will be almost as good. No telescope is required to view this event. [photo gallery]

The conjunction is underway. Masa Nakamura photographed the planets side by side over Otawara, Tochigi, Japan:


Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery

'VENETIAN BLIND' SHADOWS IN THE MIST: This week, photographer Mark Marquette got up before sunrise--not to see the planets, but rather to observe the surface of the Colorado river near Austin, Texas. The attraction was the spooky mist that rises from the water when the first rays of warming sunlight arrive after a long, cool winter's night. However, Marquette saw something he didn't expect: 'venetian blind' shadows cutting through the fog:


"What causes this?" he asks. "My guess is light reflected from ripples in the river cast shadows upward in the dancing mist."

Essentially, that is correct. A careful look at the waters' surface reveals organized ripples reflecting the glow of the rising sun:


Sheets of light bouncing off those ripples lanced through the mist to create bands of light and dark. Atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley says the phenomenon is related to caustics--sharp and thin sheets of light produced by reflection from a wavy surface. Here is an example of caustics criss-crossing the hull of a fishing boat. "Waves and ripples on water usually produce caustic patterns," says Cowley. "Although themselves highly structured, caustics are not regular bands. So I am surprised that the shadows Marquette saw were so regular."

Venetian blind shadows: beautiful and a little mysterious. Look for them the next time you encounter a spooky mist!

Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery

SOLAR WIND SPARKS BIG AURORAS: On Jan. 8th, a display of auroras appeared over Kvaløya, Norway. It was so large, photographer Anne Birgitte Fyhn had to take 8 pictures to capture the whole thing. Click to view the complete panorama:


"The coldest day this winter gave us an evening with clear skies and magnificent auroras," says Fyhn. "The show was worth my cold toes."

The display was caused by a high-speed stream of solar wind, now buffeting Earth's magnetic field. Earth will probably remain inside the stream for another ~12 hours, so more auroras are in the offing. Monitor the realtime photo gallery for sightings. Aurora alerts: text or voice

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. 8, 2016, the network reported 6 fireballs.
(5 sporadics, 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 9, 2016 there were 1650 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2015 YC10

Jan 4

10.4 LD

45 m

1999 JV6

Jan 6

12.6 LD

410 m

2016 AN9

Jan 7

7.6 LD

20 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

38 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

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: 430.1 km/sec
density: 5.6 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1429 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B2 
1140 UT Jan09 
24-hr: B4 0010 UT Jan09 
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1400 UTDaily Sun: 09 Jan 16None of these sunspots poses a threat for strong flares. Solar activity is low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 80 
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 09 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 09 Jan 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 109 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 09 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= 2 
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 6.3 nT
Bz: 1.8 nT south 

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1429 UTCoronal Holes: 09 Jan 16 
There are no large coronal holes on the Earthside of the sun. 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: 01-08-2016 15:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Jan 08 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


10 %

10 %


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 08 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


05 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


25 %

25 %


20 %

20 %