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Space Weather Update: 06/30/2016

By, 06/30/2016

CLIMATE CHANGE AT THE EDGE OF SPACE: A hundred years ago, noctilucent clouds were an Arctic phenomenon. You had to travel to very high latitudes to see them. In recent years, however, the electric blue clouds have been sighted as far south as Colorado and Kansas. What's happening? A new study by researchers working with NASA's AIM spacecraft suggests an answer: It's climate change at the edge of space.

THE SUN LOOKS LIKE A BILLIARD BALL: The sun has now been without spots for 7 consecutive days. Our star looks like an enormous yellow billiard ball:


The last time sunspots vanished for a whole week was in Dec. 2010--a time when the sun was bouncing back from a long Solar Minimum. In this case, the 7 week interregnum is a sign that a new Solar Minimum is coming.   

The sunspot cycle is like a pendulum, swinging back and forth every 11-years or so between times of high and low sunspot number.  The next low is expected in 2019-2020. Between now and then sunspots will become increasingly rare with stretches of days, then weeks, then months of "billiard-ball suns."

Without sunspots, there will be fewer solar flares and CMEs. However, that doesn't mean space weather will stop.  On the contrary, new forms of space weather will rise to the fore, including high doses of cosmic rays, more "space lightning" (sprites), altered states of ham radio propagation, and geomagnetic storms triggered by solar wind streams and co-rotating interaction regions instead of CMEs. Stay tuned for the next phase of the solar cycle. Solar flare alerts: text or voice

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

BRIGHT AURORAS CAST SHADOWS: No sunspots? No problem. "Yesterday, June 28th, we observed auroras so bright they cast shadows on the ground," reports B. Sudarsan Patro of the Bharati Indian Base Station in Antarctica. He sends this picture from the Larsemann Hills at latitude 69°S:


"It was very cold outside, but the sight of this amazing display gave us a feeling of warmth," says Patro.

On June 28th there were no sunspots, no solar flares, and no CMEs. Even without those forms of solar activity, the aurora australis appeared in force over the frozen continent. What caused the display? We don't know. Sometimes space weather just happens.

For more surprises, browse the realtime photo gallery:

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

GREEN FLASH ON THE RED PLANET: Occasionally, when the sun sets behind the waves of the ocean, observers witness an emerald pulse of light just above the vanishing solar disk. Once thought to be a fable, the "green flash" is now known to be real, and is a regular entry on bucket lists. The phenomenon, however, is not limited to the sun. Yesterday, Peter Rosén of Stockholm, Sweden, observed a type of green flash on Mars:


"I was observing Mars through my 9-inch Celestron telescope," says Rosén. "It was setting, only 3° above the horizon, and the atmospheric turbulence was extreme. Suddenly I saw the upper part of the planet getting distorted and turning green."

"It looked just like a green flash on the sun," he says.

The phenomenon Rosén photographed is related to the ordinary twinkling of stars. Near the horizon, blobs of turbulent air refract and distort light, some colors more so than others, separating red from green and blue. The puff of green rising from the martian disk is a result of this type of chromatic turbulence.

Green flashes on the sun happen for different, but related reasons: According to Les Cowley's atmospheric optics web site: "The classical green flash relies on a mirage to magnify small differences in refraction between red and green light. The mirage occurs when there is warm air immediately over the ocean and the air temperature gradient changes rapidly with height."

"I have observed and photographed solar green flashes on multiple occasions," says Rosén, "but this was the first time I caught a green flash on the red planet!"

Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery

Realtime Sprite 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. 30, 2016, the network reported 40 fireballs.
(38 sporadics, 1 Microscorpiid, 1 Northern June Aquilid)



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 30, 2016 there were 1707 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


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

2004 BO41

Sep 7

38.9 LD

1.1 km

2015 KE

Sep 10

14.9 LD

23 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: 369.8 km/sec
density: 12.0 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2122 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A7
1950 UT Jun30
24-hr: A7 0037 UT Jun30
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2100 UTDaily Sun: 30 Jun 16The sun is blank--no sunspots. This means solar activity is very low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 0
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 30 Jun 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 7 days
2016 total: 11 days (6%) 
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 30 Jun 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 74 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 30 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= 3
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.8 nT
Bz: 1.8 nT south

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2122 UTCoronal Holes: 30 Jun 16
A stream of solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole should reach Earth on July 2-3. 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: 06-30-2016 15:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Jun 29 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 29 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

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15 %


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High latitudes

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35 %

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