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Space Weather Update: 02/06/2016

By, 02/06/2016

CELESTIAL TRIANGLE: This weekend, Mercury, Venus and the slender crescent Moon have converged for a beautiful conjunction in the pre-dawn sky. The trio form a bright triangle shining through the rosy glow of sunrise. Set your alarm for about 1/2 hour before dawn, and look east for a beautiful view: sky map.

Giovanni Soligo photographed the triangle over Formia (LT), Italy, at daybreak on Feb. 6th:


"I used a Canon 550D digital camera set at ISO 200 for a 20 second exposure," says Soligo. "The planets were easy to photograph."

Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery

GREEN REINDEER: Last night, Feb. 5th, not far from Skulsfjord, Norway, the snowy landscape turned green when a bright band of auroras stretched across the sky. "A small reindeer came to investigate me and my camera while I was photographing the beautiful scene," says Terence Murtagh. The reindeer looked a bit green, too:


The display was caused by a stream of solar wind pressing against Earth's magnetic field. Earth is expected to exit the stream on Feb. 6th, so the lights should subside later today.

The next outburst of auroras could come on Feb. 8th when Earth crosses through a fold in the heliospheric current sheet--a so-called "solar sector boundary crossing." NOAA estimates a 40% chance of polar geomagnetic storms when the crossing occurs. Aurora alerts: text or voice

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

SEA LAUNCH OF A SPACE WEATHER BALLOON: For the first time, a space weather balloon has been launched from the deck of a moving ship. Led by Earth to Sky Calculus graduate Aaron Lamb, students at the California State University Maritime Academy did it on Feb. 3rd:


"It was a complicated launch, but we pulled it off," says Midshipman Lamb. "We sailed with the wind to nullify the effect of wind gusts on the balloon. This allowed us to release it with a minimum of chaos. A second boat followed us to photograph the launch and to provide any necessary rescues in case of 'men overboard.'"

This sea launch is good training for next year's Solar Eclipse Balloon Network: In Aug. 2017 there will be a total eclipse of the sun across the continental United States. and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus plan to launch a dozen balloons from the path of totality to record the eclipse from the stratosphere, creating a unique movie of the Moon's shadow sweeping across the American continent. To fully capture the eclipse from coastal areas in Oregon and South Carolina, a sea launch may be necessary.

"We are also working on a sea landing," adds Lamb. "That is, we plan to build a payload that can land in water and float after returning from the stratosphere."

The flexibility to launch and/or land in water could open new doors for experiments in space weather ballooning. Congratulations to the students of Earth to Sky Maritime for their innovative work!

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. 6, 2016, the network reported 11 fireballs.
(11 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 6, 2016 there were 1668 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: 431.0 km/sec
density: 0.7 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1521 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B6 
1406 UT Feb06 
24-hr: C1 0311 UT Feb06 
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1500 UTDaily Sun: 06 Feb 16AR2494 has a 'beta-gamma' magnetic field that harbors energy for M-classflares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 113 
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 06 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 06 Feb 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 120 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 06 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: 3.3 nT
Bz: 1.1 nT south 

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1521 UTCoronal Holes: 06 Feb 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 in 2016.

Switch view: Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula, East Antarctica, PolarUpdated at: 02-05-2016 16:55:03

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Feb 05 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

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 Feb 05 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


05 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


20 %

20 %


25 %

25 %


20 %

20 %