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Space Weather Update: 04/26/2016

By, 04/26/2016

SOLAR SECTOR BOUNDARY CROSSING: On April 28th, probably late in the day, Earth will cross a fold in the heliospheric current sheet--a vast wavy structure in interplanetary space separating regions of opposite magnetic polarity. This is called a "solar sector boundary crossing," and it could trigger geomagnetic activity around Earth's poles. Aurora alerts: text or voice

PENGUINS SERENADE AURORAS: As northern summer approaches, the midnight skies of the Arctic Circle are no longer completely dark. Aurora season is therefore shifting from north to south. For the next four months or so, the velvety-dark skies of Antarctica are the perfect backdrop for auroras. Penguins on the Brunt Ice Shelf serenaded this display on April 16th:


"I camped out in the field, enduring temperatures around -32°C to -34°C to witnessthis fantastic glow of green and purple," says photographer Greig Lawson. "This is at the site of an Emperor penguin colony. The calls of the birds in the background provided the soundtrack to the evening's photography!"

Lawson is a medical doctor working at theBritish Antarctic Survey's Halley Research Station. Located atop the Brunt Ice Shelf, a 130 meter thick slab of frozen water that floats atop the Weddell Sea, Halley is known for its studies of ozone, cosmic rays, and climate change. Lawson will be busy in the months ahead tending to the station's wintertime staff of 16. Hopefully, he'll have time send more pictures as geomagnetic storms paint their colors on Antarctic skies. Aurora alerts: text orvoice

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

ASTEROID FLYBY: Newly-discovered asteroid 2016 FY3 is flying past Earth today about 1.5 million miles away. There's no danger of a collision, but the 310 meter-wide space rock is close enough to see through amateur telescopes. Dennis Simmons photographed it this morning from Brisbane, Qld, Australia:


"Wow, this is quite a large rock for such a close pass, so I set up hoping that the weather conditions would let me record this event," says Simmons. "A hole in the patchy cloud cover allowed me to capture the asteroid glowing like a 14th magnitude star."

2016 FY3 comes from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and that is where it will return after today's flyby. Amateur astronomers who wish to track the asteroid as it recedes from Earth can point their GOTO telescopes using this ephemeris.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

SPACE WEATHER PROBE TAKES SELFIE: Last December, Joyce and Tad Lhamon of Seattle, Washington, bought their 12-year-old grandson Barrett a far-out Christmas gift--that is, a trip to the edge of space. In exchange for this gift certificate, Barrett could fly any experiment he wanted to the stratosphere onboard an Earth to Sky Calculus helium balloon. He thought about it for months and, after discarding many ideas, Barrett decided to fly a convex mirror. The payload's cameras could look into the mirror and take a new kind of "space selfie." Would it work? On April 17th, we flew Barrett's experiment, and the results were better than anyone dreamed:


" and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have flown more than 150 missions to the edge of space monitoring cosmic rays and stress-testing microbes. We've never seen our payload quite like this before.

A particularly interesting sequence of images shows the balloon exploding above the payload 117,100 feet above Earth. The following video frames are separated by only 1/30th of a second: #1#2#3#4. Note how the payload remains motionless during the explosion. It takes more than a second for the shock wave from the explosion to propagate down the long cord connecting the payload to the balloon.

Congratulations, Barrett, on a very successful experiment! 

Realtime Space Weather 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 Apr. 26, 2016, the network reported 25 fireballs.
(23 sporadics, 1 eta Aquariid, 1 April Lyrid)



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 26, 2016 there were potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 GV221

Apr 21

8.6 LD

43 m

2016 HA

Apr 22

6.5 LD

26 m

2016 GD207

Apr 22

4.4 LD

29 m

2016 FH12

Apr 23

7.9 LD

21 m

2016 GC222

Apr 24

14 LD

31 m

2016 HO

Apr 24

2.1 LD

33 m

2016 FY3

Apr 25

6.4 LD

310 m

2001 VG5

Apr 28

52.4 LD

1.8 km

2016 HK

May 1

4.6 LD

51 m

2014 US115

May 1

9.4 LD

52 m

2016 HN

May 4

12.1 LD

151 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

109 m

2009 DL46

May 24

6.2 LD

215 m

1997 XF11

Jun 10

70 LD

1.8 km

2015 XZ378

Jun 13

9.7 LD

16 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: 430.3 km/sec
density: 3.4 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1819 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B7
1332 UT Apr26
24-hr: B7 1332 UT Apr26
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1800 UTDaily Sun: 26 Apr 16Sunspot AR2533 has a stable magnetic field that poses no threat for strong solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 38
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 26 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 26 Apr 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 82 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 26 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= 2
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 4.4 nT
Bz: 1.2 nT south

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1818 UTCoronal Holes: 26 Apr 16Solar wind flowing from this small coronal hole could reach Earth on May 1-2. 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 25 2200 UTC


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24-48 hr


01 %

01 %


01 %

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Geomagnetic Storms:
Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth's magnetic field are given for three activity levels: activeminor stormsevere stormUpdated at: 2016 Apr 25 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

10 %


05 %

01 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


25 %

20 %


25 %

15 %