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Space Weather Update: 02/24/2016

By, 02/24/2016

VERY QUIET SUN: Today, NOAA forecasters say there is a scant 5% chance ofM-class solar flares. That might be an overestimate. There are only two small spots on the sun, and neither has the type of unstable magnetic field harbors energy for strong explosions. The sun is likely to remain quiet on Feb. 24th. Solar flare alerts:text or voice

AURORA SURPRISE: There was no geomagnetic storm last night, but sometimes geomagnetic storms are not required for bright auroras. "On Feb. 23rd we witnessed a mind-glowingly beautiful display," reports aurora tour guide Sarah Skinner of Abisko, Sweden. "At first the auroras were faint. Gradually they increased in intensity until--BOOM!--the sky was filled was rapidly dancing lights."


"The shapes and colours were amazing," continues Skinner. "Guests literally screamed with excitement, as did I!"

The cause of the outburst was not a CME or other solar storm. Instead, the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) near Earth tilted south. This gentle event openeda crack in Earth's magnetosphere. Solar wind poured in to fuel the display.

More auroras are in the offing. A solar wind stream is expected to hit Earth's magnetic field on Feb. 24th or 25th. The impact could spark a G1-classgeomagnetic storm around the Arctic Circle and--BOOM!--another display. Stay tuned. Aurora alerts: text or voice

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

CATS IN SPACE: On Feb. 16th, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus launched a space weather balloon to monitor cosmic rays in Earth's atmosphere. A pair of cats went along for the ride:


"They belong to me," says reader Matt Comerford, who sponsored the flight. "It was great to see them 107,000 feet above Earth!"

The payload landed in a remote canyon on the east side of California's rugged White Mountains. A recovery team had to hike 19 miles to find the radiation sensors. Students are reducing the data now, and it looks like cosmic rays are still intensifying. Stay tuned for updates from the flight.

Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery

SNOW MOON HALO: According to folklore, Monday night's full Moon was the "Snow Moon," named after the heavy snows of February. "There was no snow falling in Stockholm," reports photographer Peter Rosén, "but a magnificent halo formed in the drifting clouds." Click on the Moon to set the scene in motion:


Maybe there was no snow, but the spectacle Rosén photographed was caused by a close relative of snowflakes--that is, ice crystals floating in high freezing clouds.Pencil-shaped ice crystals catch the moonlight and bend it into a 22o ring, as shown above. When you see such a halo, be alert for moondogs and moon pillars, too. They are formed by plate-shaped ice crystals that often accompany their pencil-shaped cousins.

Many ice halos surrounded last night's Snow Moon. Browse the photo gallery for more sightings:

Realtime Spaceweather 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 Feb. 23, 2016, the network reported 15 fireballs.
(15 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 February 24, 2016 there were 1682 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 BE

Feb 1

5.9 LD

86 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

2016 BQ15

Feb 8

8.5 LD

44 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

0.044 LD

30 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

9.2 LD

540 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

2002 AJ29

Apr 6

55.2 LD

1.5 km

2002 EB3

Apr 8

55.6 LD

1.2 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. 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: 343.5 km/sec
density: 8.5 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1432 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: C1 
1229 UT Feb24 
24-hr: C1 1229 UT Feb24 
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1400 UTDaily Sun: 24 Feb 16Neither of these sunspots poses a threat for strong solar flares. Solar activity remains low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 27 
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 24 Feb 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 24 Feb 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 91 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 24 Feb 2016

Current Auroral Oval:

Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 1 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 3 
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 6.5 nT
Bz: 3.1 nT south 

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1432 UTCoronal Holes: 24 Feb 16 
A stream of solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole should reach Earth on Feb. 24-25. Credit: SDO/AIA.Noctilucent Clouds The southern season for noctilucent clouds began on Dec. 13, 2015. It is expected to end in late February 2016.

Switch view: Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula, East Antarctica, PolarUpdated at: 02-12-2016 16:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Feb 23 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 Feb 23 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 %


25 %

25 %