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Space Weather Update: 06/18/2016

By, 06/18/2016

SOLAR WIND, INEFFECTIVE: A stream of high-speed solar wind is pressing against Earth's magnetic field, but the constant pressure is doing little to spark dynamic geomagnetic activity.  NOAA forecasters estimate a relatively low 25% chance of geomagnetic storms on June. 18th. Aurora alerts: text orvoice

POLAR STRATOSPHERIC CLOUDS: Bright colors have appeared in the skies over Antarctica--but it's not the aurora australis. Instead, pastel stratospheric clouds are floating over the frozen continent. B. Sudarsan Patro photographed the apparition on June 17th from the Bharati Indian Base Station:


"The clouds were absolutely stunning," says Patro. "It was really surprising and a new experience for all of us."

Atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley says "Bharati Station at 70 degrees south is just the place to get these wonderful filmy Polar Stratospheric Clouds (PSCs).  Floating 9 to 16 miles high, they need stunningly-cold temperatures below -85 Celsius to form."

Sunlight shining through tiny ice particles ~10µm across produce the characteristic bright iridescent colors of PSCs by diffraction and interference. "More familiar tropospheric clouds can also shine with iridescent colours," says Cowley, "but never as vividly or memorably as PSCs.  This page helps distinguish the two."

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

DOUBLE SPACE WEATHER BALLOON LAUNCH: On Saturday, June 18th, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus will launch two space weather balloons, simultaneously, 600 miles apart, to investigate the latitude dependence of cosmic rays penetrating Earth's atmosphere.  Launch sites are located near Bishop, California, and Bend, Oregon:


Because Oregon is closer to Earth's magnetic north pole, it should receive more space radiation than California.  We will find out how much more on Saturday morning. Measuring the difference, Oregon vs. California, will allow us to check leading models of atmospheric radiation and improve forecasts of cosmic ray dose rates onboard commercial passenger jets.  If you plan to fly any place this summer, this research is for you.

Stay tuned for the launch!

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

RED SPRITES AND GREEN AIRGLOW: Thunderstorm season is underway in the northern hemisphere. That means astrophotographers should point their cameras above the clouds. Thomas Ashcraft did so on June 14th, and he captured two forms of space weather--red sprites and green airglow:


"A large jellyfish sprite appeared over a thunderstorm in the western Oklahoma panhandle last evening," says Ashcraft. "It was about three hundred miles away from my observatory."

"I also caught it in video with very low frequency (VLF) radio emissions, and the parent lightning stroke made a strong pop," he says. Turn up the volume and play the video.

Possibly triggered by cosmic rays, sprites are a form of upper atmospheric that reach up from the tops of thunderstorms toward the edge of space. 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.

The "jellyfish sprite" Ashcraft captured is backlit by a band of green airglow. Airglow surrounds our entire planet, fringing the top of the atmosphere withaurora-like color. Although airglow resembles the aurora borealis, its underlying physics is different. Airglow is caused by an assortment of chemical reactions in the upper atmosphere. Auroras, on the other hand, are ignited by gusts of solar wind.

Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery

Realtime Noctilucent Cloud 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. 18, 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 June 18, 2016 there were 1707 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 LK49

Jun 16

3.2 LD

28 m

2016 LY8

Jun 18

13.4 LD

109 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: 596.1 km/sec
density: 2.0 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2001 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B3
1435 UT Jun18
24-hr: B3 1148 UT Jun18
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1900 UTDaily Sun: 18 Jun 16None of these sunspots poses a threat for strong flares. Solar activity remains low.Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 36
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 18 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 18 Jun 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 87 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 18 Jun 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 1 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 3
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 3.9 nT
Bz: 1.0 nT north

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2001 UTCoronal Holes: 18 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: 06-17-2016 16:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Jun 17 2200 UTC


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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 Jun 17 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

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15 %

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05 %

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High latitudes

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15 %

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10 %