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Space Weather Update: 03/17/2016

By, 03/17/2016

MINOR ERUPTION, BEAUTIFUL MOVIE: A magnetic filament attached to sunspot AR2522 erupted during the early hours of March 16th. Although the eruption was relatively minor, it made a beautiful movie (credit: NASA/SDO). Energetic protons streaming past Earth are slightly elevated as a result of the blast.Solar flare alerts: text or voice

SOLAR WIND SPARKS AURORAS: Earth is passing through a stream of solar wind, and the encounter is sparking bright auroras around the Arctic Circle. Last night, aurora tour guide Marketa S. Murray photographed the display from the countryside near Fairbanks, Alaska


"There was so much energy, the whole sky was pulsating with aurora," says Murray. "It was an amazing night."

Tonight could be the same. Magnetic fields in this solar wind stream have a negative polarity. This means they can link to Earth's magnetic field, opening a crack in our planet's magnetosphere and allowing solar wind inside. Auroras will likely follow. NOAA forecasters estimate a 50% chance of G1-class geomagnetic storms onMarch 17th. Aurora alerts: text or voice

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

COMET BRIGHTENS AS IT APPROACHES EARTH: On March 21st, Comet 252P/LINEAR will make a close approach to Earth--only 0.036 AU (5.4 million km) away. This is the fifth closest cometary approach on record and, as a result, the normally dim comet could become an easy target for backyard telescopes. In fact, it is brightening much faster than expected: data. "Comet 252P/LINEAR has surpassed expectations and is now bordering on naked eye visibility for southern observers," reports Michael Mattiazzo of Swan Hill, Victoria, Australia, who took this picture on March 13th:


"Since March 7th, the comet has brightened about 0.5 magnitudes per day," continues Mattiazzo, "and now it is near 6th magnitude. The comet's atmosphere (coma) is expanding rapidly, too, from 10 arcminutes on March 7th to 35 arcminutes on March 14th. It may reach 1o across by March 21st."

This is a southern hemisphere event. At closest approach on March 21st, the brightening comet will speed through the constellations Triangulum Australis andApus. Observers south of the equator can use this ephemeris to point their telescopes. In remote places with very dark skies, it is possible that no telescope will be required; naked eyes might suffice.

UPDATE: There is a chance that the comet's approach could cause a minor meteor shower. According to the International Meteor Organization, modeling by meteor forecaster "Mikhail Maslov indicates that there might be a weak episode of faint, very slow meteors (15.5 km/s) on March 28–30 from a radiant near the star μ Leporis." Little is known about meteors from this comet, so estimates of the meteor rate are very uncertain. Maslov's models suggest no more than 5 to 10 per hour.

Realtime Comet Photo Gallery

A SPHERICAL VIEW OF THE SOLAR ECLIPSE: One week ago, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus stood on a beach in Indonesia waiting for the cool shadow of the Moon to sweep over the white sands of Belitung Island. They were there to test cameras for high-altitude ballooning--specifically, the Solar Eclipse Balloon Network. One of those cameras was a Ricoh spherical camera--able to see in all directions at once. Such a camera can take interactive 360o images, like this one of the students setting up their experiment on the beach:

We already know that this camera can operate at the edge of space. It traveled there in late February and took spectacular pictures of the stratosphere. But could it photograph a total eclipse of the sun? The answer is "yes."

Minutes after the first picture was taken, the shadow of the Moon engulfed Belitung Island, and the Ricoh did a great job capturing the alien twilight. Click here to transport yourself to the path of totality.

This spherical camera will travel back to the edge of space next week as the space weather ballooning program continues. Stay tuned for more 360o images.

March 9th Solar Eclipse Photo Gallery

Realtime Spaceweather 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. 17, 2016, the network reported 12 fireballs.
(12 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 17, 2016 there were 1689 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 EU28

Mar 12

6.5 LD

27 m

2016 EJ27

Mar 12

9.7 LD

38 m

2016 EG158

Mar 15

12.1 LD

18 m

2016 EM156

Mar 16

1.4 LD

12 m

2016 ES85

Mar 16

3.1 LD

5 m

2016 EW85

Mar 16

1.4 LD

13 m

2016 EF156

Mar 17

6.7 LD

48 m

2016 ES155

Mar 17

5.7 LD

60 m

2016 EL157

Mar 18

4.5 LD

19 m

2010 FX9

Mar 19

6.9 LD

62 m

2016 EO156

Mar 19

3.5 LD

7 m

2016 EN156

Mar 19

1.6 LD

13 m


Mar 21

13.9 LD

0 m


Mar 22

9.2 LD

0 m

1993 VA

Mar 23

59.6 LD

1.6 km

2016 CY135

Mar 23

13.9 LD

57 m

2016 EQ1

Mar 24

8.3 LD

26 m

2001 XD

Mar 28

64.5 LD

1.0 km

2016 EK156

Mar 29

14 LD

51 m

2016 BC14

Mar 29

9.8 LD

275 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

2001 VG5

Apr 28

52.4 LD

1.8 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: 531.7 km/sec
density: 2.1 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1508 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B2
1341 UT Mar17
24-hr: B3 0334 UT Mar17
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1500 UTDaily Sun: 17 Mar 16Solar activity remains low, however, new sunspot AR2524 merits watching as it emerges over the sun's northeastern limb. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 53
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 17 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 17 Mar 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 91 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 17 Mar 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 4 unsettled
24-hr max: Kp= 5
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 4.5 nT
Bz: 0.1 nT south

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1507 UTCoronal Holes: 17 Mar 16
Earth is inside a stream of solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole. 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 16 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 Mar 16 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


35 %

20 %


15 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


10 %

15 %


25 %

30 %


50 %

25 %