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Space Weather Update: 03/04/2016

By, 03/04/2016

CO-ROTATING INTERACTION REGION: NOAA forecasters estimate a 50% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on March 6th when a co-rotating interaction region (CIR) is expected to hit Earth's magnetic field. CIRs are transition zones between fast- and slow-moving solar wind streams. Solar wind plasma piles up in these regions, producing density gradients and shock waves that do a good job of sparking auroras. Aurora alerts: text or voice

TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN: Next week, there's going to be a total eclipse of the sun. During the early hours of March 9th the new Moon will pass directly in front of the sun. The Moon's shadow will lance down toward Earth, making landfall only on the islands of Indonesia before it races out onto the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Graphic artist Larry Koehn of Shadow and Substancecreated this animated visibility map:

Inside the Moon's cool shadow, sky watchers can look up and see the sun'sghostly corona, a mesmerizing sight that longtime NASA eclipse expert Fred Espenak says "on a scale of 1 to 10--it's a million!"

Outside the narrow path of totality, the eclipse will be partial. Observers all around the Pacific will be able to see a crescent-shaped sun in the sky casting crescent-shaped shadows on the ground below.  In Hawaii, 60% to 70% of the sun will be covered, quite a bit more than the 20% coverage in Alaska.  The Australian sun will be as much as 50% blocked. 

This is the last solar eclipse before the "Big One" next year.  On August 21st, 2017, the sun and Moon will line up again.  This time the Moon's shadow will cross the entire USA, creating a total eclipse in easy driving distance of tens of millions of people.  It will likely be the best observed eclipse in human history.

Stay tuned for a preview from Indonesia.

Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery

PHYSICS OF AN EXPLODING SPACE WEATHER BALLOON: On Feb. 27th, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus launched a space weather balloon to measure increasing levels of cosmic rays. At the apex of the flight, the balloon exploded as planned and the radiation sensors parachuted back to Earth. A high-speed camera on top of the payload captured some extraordinary images of the pop:


These images illustrate new findings about the physics of exploding balloons. In Oct. 2015, researchers Sébastien Moulinet and Mokhtar Adda-Bedia of the Ecole Normale Supérieure published a Physical Review Letter entitled "Popping Balloons: A Case Study of Dynamical Fragmentation." In it, they reported the results of a series of fun yet informative laboratory experiments in which one balloon after another was popped and analyzed.

Basically, there are two ways a balloon can pop: along a single tear (the "opening regime") or along many tears (the "fragmentation regime"). This videoshows the two regimes in action. Which way the balloon decided to pop depends on the stress in the rubber membrane. When the stress is low, it can be relieved with a single tear, but when the stress is high, many tears are required to do the job.

Clearly, space weather balloons explode in the fragmentation regime. This is hardly a surprise. When space weather balloons are launched, they measure no more than 6 to 8 feet in diameter. By the time they reach the stratosphere, they have stretched into a sphere as wide as a house. That's a lot of tension to release!

More information about this research is available from the American Physical Society.

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 Mar. 3, 2016, the network reported 10 fireballs.
(10 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 4, 2016 there were 1682 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 ED1

Mar 1

4 LD

31 m

2016 DL1

Mar 1

4.7 LD

19 m

2011 EH17

Mar 1

11.1 LD

52 m

2016 DV1

Mar 3

1 LD

44 m

2016 DW1

Mar 3

14.2 LD

29 m

2016 DM1

Mar 3

5.9 LD

26 m

2016 DU1

Mar 3

13.1 LD

25 m

2016 EG1

Mar 5

1.1 LD

7 m

2016 DN2

Mar 5

1.8 LD

20 m

2013 TX68

Mar 8

13 LD

38 m

2001 PL9

Mar 9

77.6 LD

1.2 km

2016 EB1

Mar 10

5.3 LD

37 m

2010 FX9

Mar 19

6.9 LD

62 m


Mar 21

13.9 LD

0 m


Mar 22

9.2 LD

545 m

1993 VA

Mar 23

59.6 LD

1.6 km

2016 CY135

Mar 23

13.9 LD

60 m

2001 XD

Mar 28

64.5 LD

1.0 km

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

7.8 LD

175 m

2008 HU4

Apr 16

4.9 LD

10 m

2001 VG5

Apr 28

52.4 LD

1.8 km

2014 US115

May 1

9.4 LD

52 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: 371.5 km/sec
density: 2.8 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1457 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B6 
0845 UT Mar04 
24-hr: B6 0845 UT Mar04 
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1400 UTDaily Sun: 04 Mar 16Not one of these small sunspots poses a threat for strong solar flares. SOlar activity remains very low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 50 
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 04 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 04 Mar 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 99 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 04 Mar 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: 4.6 nT
Bz: 0.1 nT south 

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1458 UTCoronal Holes: 04 Mar 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. 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 Mar 03 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 03 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


30 %

30 %


05 %

10 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


30 %

30 %


35 %

40 %