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Space Weather Update: 07/04/2016

By, 07/04/2016

NO FIREWORKS ON THE 4TH OF JULY: Sunspots vanished almost two weeks ago and, as a result, solar activity is very low. NOAA forecasters say there is no more than a 1% chance of strong flares on the 4th of July. Solar flare alerts: text or voice

AURORAS AND NOCTILUCENT CLOUDS: Who needs sunspots? Despite a sudden lull in solar activity, July began with a beautiful display of color over Calgary, Alberta. Harlan Thomas photographed the sudden apparition of green auroras and silver noctilucent clouds:


"On the evening of June 30th, I faithfully checked the AIM daisy and saw that noctilucent clouds were forming over North America," says Thomas. "So I drove my Jeep to a dark location outside Calgary--and promptly fell asleep."

"About 30 minutes after midnight on July 1st something woke me up," he adds. "The noctilucent clouds had appeared, and they were not alone. I was surprised to see some green auroras as well."

Indeed, the auroras were a surprise. There were no sunspots, no solar flares, and no CMEs on June 30th, yet skies turned green anyway. Here's what happened: Earth passed through a region of space filled with negative-polarity magnetic fields (known to researchers as "negative B sub z"). Such fields can open a crack in Earth's magnetosphere. Solar wind pours in and sparks auroras--no sunspots required.

At the same time, an even brighter display of auroras appeared over Antarctica. Browse the gallery for more sightings:

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

ASTROARTS AT THE EDGE OF SPACE: Approximately once a week, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus launch helium balloons to the stratosphere. Their purpose is: to monitor cosmic rays, which are intensifying as the solar cycle crashes. All that helium costs money, and our research flights depend on sponsors such as AstroArts--shown here at the edge of space on June 29th:


AstroArts' generous donation of $500 not only propelled their 25th anniversary display to the edge of space, but also added another crucial data point to the growing record of atmospheric radiation. Thank you, AstroArts!

Readers, if you would like to send an item of your own to the top of Earth's atmosphere, you can book a flight with as little as two week's notice. Contact Dr. Tony Phillips to become a sponsor!

:Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

GRAND CANYON 'BOW: To see a rainbow, all you need are sunlight and falling rain. Correction: that's all you need to see half a rainbow. Typical rainbows are at least 50% hidden below the horizon. To boost the fraction, add a canyon. David Blanchard saw almost 75% on July 1st:


"Late afternoon thunderstorms gave way to sunlight just moments before sunset, resulting in this three-quarter circle rainbow," says Blanchard, who was standing on the south rim of the Grand Canyon when he took the picture.

His photo shows that rainbows are not just arcs, but actually circles. Moreover, they are double circles. The interior or "primary rainbow" is caused by one reflection inside raindrops. The exterior or "secondary rainbow" is caused bytwo reflections. Turns out, you can learn a lot about rainbows by standing on a precipice.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

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 Jul. 3, 2016, the network reported 13 fireballs.
(12 sporadics, 1 July Pegasid)



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 July 4, 2016 there were 1707 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 NA

Jul 1

1.3 LD

18 m

2016 MO

Jul 7

6.6 LD

47 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: 398.5 km/sec
density: 2.1 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2032 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B1
1547 UT Jul04
24-hr: B1 0201 UT Jul04
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2000 UTDaily Sun: 04 Jul 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 04 Jul 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 11 days
2016 total: 15 days (8% to date) 
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 04 Jul 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 72 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 04 Jul 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: 4.7 nT
Bz: 3.3 nT south

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2032 UTCoronal Holes: 04 Jul 16
Solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole should reach Earth on July 7-8. 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: 07-03-2016 16:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Jul 03 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 Jul 03 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

05 %


05 %

01 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


20 %

15 %


25 %

15 %


20 %

05 %