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Space Weather Update: 03/29/2016

By, 03/29/2016

QUIET SUN: Solar activity remains very low. There is only one sunspot facing Earth, and it has a stable magnetic field that poses little threat for explosions. NOAA forecasters say there is no more than a 1% chance of strong solar flares today.

SOLAR WIND SPARKS AURORAS: A stream of fast-moving solar wind is buffeting Earth's magnetic field, and this is causing intermittant auroras around the Arctic Circle. Last night in Kaunispää, Finland, photographer Juan Carlos Casado captured a magnificent outburst:


"Auroras began at dusk and did not stop their activity overnight, occupying the whole sky and showing amazing shapes and colors," says Casado.

Spring twilight is beginning to decrease the visibility of auroras around the Arctic Circle, but as Casado's photo shows, aurora season is not over yet. NOAA forecasters estimate a 20% chance of geomagnetic storms on March 29th as Earth exits the solar wind stream. Aurora alerts: text or voice

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

SOLAR CYCLE CRASHING: Is anyone wondering, why has the sun been so quiet lately? Answer: The 11-year sunspot cycle is crashing. Just look at the numbers in the graph below:


For the past two years, the sunspot number has been dropping as the sun transitions from Solar Max to Solar Min. Fewer sunspots means fewer solar flares and fewer coronal mass ejections (CMEs). As these explosions subside, we deem the sun "quiet."

But how quiet is it, really?

A widely-held misconception is that space weather stalls and becomes uninteresting during periods of low sunspot number. In fact, by turning the solar cycle sideways, we see that Solar Minimum brings many interesting changes. For instance, the upper atmosphere of Earth collapses, allowing space junk to accumulate around our planet. The heliosphere shrinks, bringing interstellar space closer to Earth. And galactic cosmic rays penetrate the inner solar system with relative ease. Indeed, a cosmic ray surge is already underway. (Goodbye sunspots, hello deep-space radiation.)

Stay tuned for updates as the sunspot number continues to drop.

Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery

PLANT YOUR OWN SPACE GARDEN: Northern spring has arrived, and that means it's time to plant flowers. Mutant space flowers, that is. These Zinnia seeds flew to the edge of space aboard an Earth to Sky Calculus helium balloon on Feb. 17, 2016:


En route, the seeds were exposed to comic ray doses more than 100x Earth normal, temperatures as low as -63C, and air pressures only 0.3% of sea level.

Zinnias are interesting because they have recently blossomed on the International Space Station. Maybe it's time to plant these space flowers in your garden, too. For $49.95 you can have some. Each order comes with one seed packet flown to the edge of space, and a second seed packet that was kept on Earth as a control sample. Plant them side by side to discover the effect of near-space flight on your flowers. All proceeds support student research.

Speaking of mutants, we have also flown sunflower seeds to the edge of space, where they soaked up cosmic rays for more than 2 hours. What happens when you plant such seeds? reader Christian Schwarze bought some and found out. "A second flower grew out of the side of the first one," he says. "Very strange!"


"Unfortunately, we were on holiday while it flowered," says Schwarze.

Readers who wish to repeat these experiments in their own backyard may ordersunflowerszinnias, and many other stratospheric seeds from Earth to Sky Calculus.

Realtime Comet Photo Gallery

Solar Eclipse 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 Mar. 29, 2016, the network reported 18 fireballs.
(18 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 March 29, 2016 there were 1690 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 FU6

Mar 25

0.5 LD

7 m

2001 XD

Mar 28

64.5 LD

1.0 km

2016 EK156

Mar 29

14 LD

49 m

2016 BC14

Mar 29

9.8 LD

270 m

2002 AJ29

Apr 6

55.2 LD

1.5 km

2002 EB3

Apr 8

55.6 LD

1.2 km

2009 KJ

Apr 10

37.7 LD

1.6 km

2005 GR33

Apr 13

7.7 LD

175 m

2008 HU4

Apr 16

4.9 LD

10 m

2016 FY3

Apr 25

6.4 LD

310 m

2001 VG5

Apr 28

52.4 LD

1.8 km

2014 US115

May 1

9.4 LD

52 m

2008 TZ3

May 5

13.1 LD

355 m

2014 JG55

May 8

7.6 LD

7 m

2009 DL46

May 24

6.2 LD

205 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. 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: 551.7 km/sec
density: 1.9 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1557 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B3
1456 UT Mar29
24-hr: B3 1456 UT Mar29
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1600 UTDaily Sun: 29 Mar 16Earth-facing sunspot AR2526 has a stable magnetic field that poses no threat for strong solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 23
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 29 Mar 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 29 Mar 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 88 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 29 Mar 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 2 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 3
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.1 nT
Bz: 3.5 nT north

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1557 UTCoronal Holes: 29 Mar 16
There are no large coronal holes on the Earth-facing side of the sun. Credit: SDO/AIA.Noctilucent Clouds The southern season for noctilucent clouds began on Dec. 13, 2015. It is expected to end in late February or March 2016.


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

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Mar 28 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 Mar 28 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

10 %


05 %

01 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


20 %

15 %


25 %

20 %


20 %

10 %