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Space Weather Update: 05/02/2016

By, 05/02/2016

SPACE ROSES FOR MOTHER'S DAY: Nothing says "Happy Mother's Day" quite like a red rose from the edge of space. See? There's still time to buy a space rose for your own mom. Order one now from Earth to Sky Calculus for delivery before May 8th. All proceeds support student space weather research.

NEGATIVE MAGNETIC FIELDS SPARK AURORAS: For the past three days Earth has been passing through a region of interplanetary space filled with negative-polarity magnetic fields. This has caused intermittent geomagnetic storms and beautiful auroras around both poles. On May 2nd, Svante Sandström photographed this display over Västerlanda, Sweden:


"The auroras and their movements were absolutely stunning," says Sandström.

"This could be the last performance of the season at our latitude," he adds. "Summer is coming, and the night skies are growing too bright for auroras."

Earth entered this aurora-friendly region of space on Saturday, April 30th, when we crossed through a fold in the heliospheric current sheet. Many people have never heard of the heliospheric current sheet. It is one of the biggest things in the solar system--a vast undulating system of electrical currents shaped like the skirt of a ballerina: picture. Earth dips in and out of it all the time. Currently, we are on the side of the current sheet containing negative-polarity magnetic fields. Such fields can open a crack in our planet's magnetosphere, allowing solar wind to pour in and fuel colorful displays.

During the current episode, Northern Lights have descended as far south asMichigan, while Southern Lights have ascended as far north as New Zealand. NOAAforecasters estimate a 25% chance of more storms tonight. Stay tuned.Aurora alerts: text or voice

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

"SPACE LIGHTNING" OVER TEXAS: You know what comes out of the bottom of thunderstorms: lightning. On April 27th, Kevin Palivec of Hawley, Texas, saw something coming out of the top. "Storms moving across Texas produce more than just rain, wind, hail and tornadoes!" says Palivec. "They also produce a lot of space lightning called 'sprites.' This is a stacked image of all the sprites I caught over storms as they moved across Texas towards Dallas/Ft Worth--with one meteor thrown in!"


Because sprites are associated with thunderstorms, they tend to occur in late spring and summer. Palivec's photo shows that sprite season is now underway.

Sprites are a true space weather phenomenon, inhabiting the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere alongside noctilucent clouds, meteors, and some auroras. Some researchers believe they are linked to cosmic rays: subatomic particles from deep space striking the top of Earth's atmosphere produce secondary electrons that, in turn, could provide the spark that triggers sprites.

"Sprites develop in mid-air very high above Earth's surface, around 80 km altitude, growing in both directions, first down, then up," says explains lightning scientist Oscar van der Velde of the Technical University of Catalonia, Spain. "An individual sprite lasts only around 5-50 milliseconds but a sequence of them can be seen to 'dance' over storm fronts for a much longer period of time."

Although sprites have been seen for at least a century, most scientists did not believe they existed until after 1989 when sprites were photographed by cameras onboard the space shuttle. Now "sprite chasers" routinely photograph sprites from their own homes. Give it a try!

Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery

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 May. 2, 2016, the network reported 15 fireballs.
(12 sporadics, 3 eta Aquariids)



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 May 2, 2016 there were 1697 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2001 VG5

Apr 28

52.4 LD

1.8 km

2016 HK

May 1

4.6 LD

47 m

2014 US115

May 1

9.4 LD

52 m

2016 HP6

May 2

8.9 LD

39 m

2016 HD3

May 2

2.2 LD

11 m

2016 HN

May 4

12.4 LD

139 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

2016 HF3

May 18

8.5 LD

68 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

2009 CV

Jun 20

12.4 LD

60 m

2010 NY65

Jun 24

10.7 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: 529.5 km/sec
density: 4.4 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1620 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B2
1130 UT May02
24-hr: C3 0842 UT May02
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1600 UTDaily Sun: 02 May 16Not one of these sunspots has the type of unstable magnetic field that poses a threat for strong flares. Solar activity is low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 76
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 02 May 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 02 May 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 92 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 02 May 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 3 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 6
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 6.8 nT
Bz: 2.3 nT north

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1619 UTCoronal Holes: 02 May 16Earth 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 May 01 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 May 01 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

10 %


05 %

01 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

20 %


25 %

20 %


25 %

10 %