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Space Weather Update: 04/18/2016

By, 04/18/2016

SOLAR FLARE UPDATE: NOAA forecasters say that a CME hurled into space by today's M6.7-flare might deliver a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field on April 20th. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras during a possible G1-class geomagnetic storm. Aurora alerts: text or voice

BIG SUNSPOT ERUPTS: Surprise! Quiet sunspot AR2529 isn't so quiet, after all. The heart-shaped active region erupted on April 18th (00:39 UT), producing a strongM6.7-class solar flare. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the flare's extreme ultraviolet flash:


A pulse of UV radiation from the flare ionized the top of Earth's atmosphere. This, in turn, disrupted shortwave radio communications over the daylit side of our planet. Mariners, aviators, and ham radio operators around the Pacific Ocean may have noticed fading signals at frequencies below ~15 MHz. A NOAA blackout mapshows the frequencies and territories affected.

More M-class flares are possible in the days ahead. AR2529 has developed a 'beta-gamma' magnetic field that harbors plenty of energy for this kind of explosion. Although the sunspot is no longer directly facing Earth, it can still affect our planet by causing radio blackouts and glancing-blow CMEs. Stay tuned. Solar flare alerts: text or voice

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

A SOLAR WIND STREAM IS COMING: Geomagnetic activity should remain low throughout the weekend. Conditions could shift to an active state late Monday, April 18th, when Earth enters a stream of high-speed solar wind. The solar wind is flowing out of this coronal hole on the sun:


Coronal holes are places in the sun's upper atmosphere where magnetic fields peel back, allowing solar wind to escape. In the image, above, from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, the flow of solar wind is traced by arrows. The escaping material is now nearing Earth.

The incoming solar wind stream is filled with positive-polarity magnetic fields. This means it might not do a good job sparking auroras. Positive polarity magnetic fields from the sun do not easily link to Earth's planetary magnetic field. As a result, their effect on our magnetosphere is often muted. Stay tuned for updates.

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

SPACE ROSES: Last week, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus launched a daring experiment. Daring for the flowers, that is. A bouquet of live roses flew to the edge of space onboard a helium balloon to find out if if they could survive the trip. The answer, apparently, is "yes." Here are the blossoms floating 35.4 km (116,000 feet) above Earth's surface:


The roses were hitchikers on a cosmic ray payload, which went to the stratosphere to monitor increasing levels of space radiation. En route to the top, the flowers were exposed to a dose of cosmic rays 100x Earth normal, air pressures as low as 0.2% of sea level, and temperatures as low as -63 C. Three hours later, the roses parachuted back to Earth and landed ... in Death Valley! Talk about a rough trip.

And now we come to Mother's Day. These flowers, which were pressed after recovery, are available as gifts. Buy one here and give mom something truly out of this world on May 8th. Each pressed rose comes with a unique card showing the flowers in flight. All proceeds support the student space weather research of Earth to Sky Calculus. 

Solar Eclipse Photo Gallery

Realtime Comet Photo Gallery
[More about Comet 252P: brightness measurements3D orbitorbital elements]

 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 Apr. 18, 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 April 18, 2016 there were 1694 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 GC221

Apr 15

13.4 LD

49 m

2016 FL13

Apr 15

9.7 LD

36 m

2008 HU4

Apr 16

4.9 LD

10 m

2016 GM2

Apr 16

12.6 LD

42 m

2016 FY12

Apr 17

5.8 LD

24 m

2016 GP221

Apr 18

1.5 LD

28 m

2016 FN13

Apr 19

13.9 LD

13 m

2016 GB222

Apr 21

4.4 LD

21 m

2016 GC1

Apr 21

8.8 LD

21 m

2016 GZ220

Apr 21

10.1 LD

23 m

2016 GV221

Apr 21

8.6 LD

41 m

2016 GD207

Apr 22

4.4 LD

29 m

2016 FH12

Apr 23

7.8 LD

21 m

2016 GC222

Apr 24

14 LD

33 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

2016 GS2

May 18

3.4 LD

115 m

2009 DL46

May 24

6.2 LD

215 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: 388.0 km/sec
density: 4.0 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1729 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B5
1452 UT Apr18
24-hr: M6 0029 UT Apr18
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1700 UTDaily Sun: 18 Apr 16Big sunspot AR2529 erupted during the early hours of April 18th, producing a M6.7-class solar flare. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 35
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 18 Apr 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 18 Apr 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 102 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 18 Apr 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 1 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 4
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.7 nT
Bz: 0.7 nT south

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1729 UTCoronal Holes: 18 Apr 16Solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole should reach Earth on April 19. 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 Apr 17 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


01 %

01 %

Geomagnetic Storms:
Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth's magnetic field are given for three activity levels: activeminor stormsevere stormUpdated at: 2016 Apr 17 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


35 %

35 %


10 %

10 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


30 %

30 %


45 %

45 %