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Space Weather Update: 06/15/2016

By, 06/15/2016

GEOMAGNETIC ACTIVITY: Arriving earlier than expected, a co-rotating interaction region (CIR) hit Earth's magnetic field on June 14-15, sparking a brief but potent geomagnetic storm (G2-class). CIRs are transition zones between slow- and fast-moving solar wind streams. Plasma density gradients in CIRs often do a good job sparking auroras. This time, however, no lights were reported. Aurora alerts: text or voice

ICE HALOS REFUSE TO MELT: As summer unfolds across the northern hemisphere, ice and snow are an increasingly distant memory. It's still freezing, however, in the clouds. Ice crystals floating miles above Earth's surface caused this display in Sweden:


"This 22° halo appeared yesterday here in Kiruna," says photographer Mia Stålnacke. "It was beautiful!"

Ice in the clouds can bend sunlight in many interesting ways, forming luminous rings, arcs, and pillars. Collectively these are known as "ice halos." They may be seen around the world during all four seasons--even summer--because it isalways freezing miles overhead. Look for them whenever the sun is up and the blue sky is criss-crossed by icy cirrus clouds.

More examples may be found in the realtime photo gallery:

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

NOCTILUCENT OUTBURST: On June 13th, observers in more than half a dozen European countries witnessed a brilliant apparition of noctilucent clouds. Ruslan Merzlyakov sends this picture from Nykøbing Mors, Denmark:


"Their brightness peaked from 00:50 to 1:20 and then, suddenly, they were almost gone," says Merzlyakov, who recorded a video of the display.

Noctilucent clouds are a space weather phenomenon. They are seeded by meteoroids and hover 83 km above Earth's surface at the threshold of space. Summer is the season for NLCs because, ironically, that is when the upper atmosphere is cold enough for ice crystals to form around meteoroids in themesosphere.

Noctilucent clouds were first reported by Europeans in the late 1800s.  In those days, you had to travel to latitudes well above 50o to see them.  Now, however, NLCs are spreading.  In recent years they have been sighted as far south as Colorado and Utah in the United States. Many researchers suspect this is a side-effect of climate change.

Observing tips: Look west 30 to 60 minutes after sunset when the Sun has dipped 6o to 16o below the horizon (diagram). If you see blue-white tendrils spreading across the sky, you may have spotted a noctilucent cloud.

Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery

DONUT OF LIGHT OVER COLORADO: On June 8th, high above a thunderstorm in Colorado, an enormous ring of light appeared near the edge of space. Amateur astronomer Thomas Ashcraft photographed the 'donut' using a low-light video camera.


"It only lasted about a millisecond," says Ashcraft, "but it was definitely there. The ring was about 300 km wide," he estimates.

This is an example of an ELVE (Emissions of Light and Very Low Frequency Perturbations due to Electromagnetic Pulse Sources). First seen by cameras on the space shuttle in 1990, ELVEs appear when a pulse of electromagnetic radiation from lightning propagates up toward space and hits the base of Earth's ionosphere. A faint ring of light marks the broad 'spot' where the EMP hits.

ELVES often appear alongside red sprites. Indeed, Ashcraft's camera caught a cluster of sprites leaping straight up through the middle of the donut. "Play the complete video to see the sprites," says Ashcraft.

ELVEs are elusive--and that's an understatement. Blinking in and out of existance in only 1/1000th of a second, they are completely invisible to the human eye. For comparison, red sprites tend to last for hundredths of a second and regular lightning can scintillate for a second or more. Their brevity explains why ELVEs are a more recent discovery than other lightning-related phenomenon.

Learn more about the history and physics of ELVEs here and here.

Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery

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 Jun. 15, 2016, the network reported 22 fireballs.
(22 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 June 15, 2016 there were 1706 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 KL

Jun 11

5.7 LD

29 m

2016 LA49

Jun 12

1.5 LD

15 m

2016 LT10

Jun 12

7.4 LD

19 m

2015 XZ378

Jun 13

9.7 LD

16 m

2016 LJ8

Jun 13

6.4 LD

42 m

2016 LY8

Jun 18

13.4 LD

116 m

2009 CV

Jun 20

12.4 LD

60 m

2010 NY65

Jun 24

10.7 LD

215 m

2002 KL6

Jul 22

26.6 LD

1.4 km

2011 BX18

Jul 25

52.7 LD

1.1 km

2005 OH3

Aug 3

5.8 LD

28 m

2000 DP107

Aug 12

66.5 LD

1.0 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: 550.8 km/sec
density: 3.7 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1750 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B4
1311 UT Jun15
24-hr: B4 1311 UT Jun15
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1700 UTDaily Sun: 15 Jun 16Neither of these sunspots poses a threat for strong flares. Solar activity remains low.Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 26
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 15 Jun 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 4 days (1%) 
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 15 Jun 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 88 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 15 Jun 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: 10.2 nT
Bz: 7.8 nT north

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1751 UTCoronal Holes: 15 Jun 16Earth is inside a stream of solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole. Credit: SDO/AIA.Noctilucent Clouds Images from NASA's AIM spacecraft are once again appearing on Check back daily for space-based sightings of noctilucent clouds.


Switch view: Europe, USA, Asia, PolarUpdated at: 06-14-2016 16:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Jun 14 2200 UTC


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Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth's magnetic field are given for three activity levels: activeminor stormsevere stormUpdated at: 2016 Jun 14 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

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