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Space Weather Update: 07/12/2016

By, 07/12/2016

GEOMAGNETIC ACTIVITY: Earth's magnetic poles are active today, July 12th, as minor geomagnetic storms occur in response to a fast-moving solar wind stream. High-latitude sky watchers in the southern hemisphere (especially Antarctica) should be alert for auroras. Aurora alerts: text or voice

MANHATTANHENGE: Twice a year at sunset, the concrete canyons of New York City turn into an urban simulacrum of an ancient astronomical observatory. Instead of Stonehenge, New York has Manhattanhenge. "On July 11th, I saw the sun setting directly in line with Manhattan's east-west streets," reports Jim Haklar, who took this picture at the intersection of 34th Street and 4th Avenue:


"There were so many other people doing the same thing that we stopped traffic!" says Haklar.

If Manhattan streets were truly east-west, this phenomenon would occur on the dates of the equinoxes. Instead, the street grid for most of Manhattan is rotated 29° clockwise from east-west. The sun therefore beams down the streets of the borough on dates which are offset: May 29-20 and July 11-12.

It's happening again tonight. Residents of the borough should be alert for another Manhattanhenge moment on July 12th at 8:20 pm local time.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, who coined the phrase "Manhattanhenge," offers these observing tips: "For best effect, position yourself as far east in Manhattan as possible. But ensure that when you look west across the avenues you can still see New Jersey. Clear cross streets include 14th, 23rd, 34th. 42nd, 57th, and several streets adjacent to them. The Empire State building and the Chrysler building render 34th street and 42nd streets especially striking vistas."

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

ELECTRIC BLUE GRAVITY WAVES: As July unfolds, sky watchers are seeing noctilucent clouds almost every night over northern Europe. Created by summertime water vapor freezing around meteor smoke in the upper atmosphere, the electric-blue forms can be mesmerizing. Consider this report from photographer Inta Nuke of Carnikava, Latvia: "July 10th was heavenly. I've never seen such bright, unusual shapes--almost mysterious." Almost.Scroll past Nuke's photo for an explanation:


The luminous swirls in Nuke's picture are a sign of gravity waves.

Gravity waves are, essentially, waves of pressure and temperature kick-started in the lower atmosphere by, e.g., powerful storm systems. Gravity does not vary inside the waves; they get their name from the fact that gravity acts as a restoring force that tries to restore equilibrium to up-and-down moving air.  Gravity waves can propagate all the way from Earth's surface up to themesosphere, where they imprint themselves on the the forms of noctilucent clouds. 

Often, gravity waves break in the noctilucent zone, dumping their energy and momentum there.  Laser radar studies of noctilucent wave structures can trace this energy and tell researchers a great deal about upper atmospheric circulation.

Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery

SPACE LIGHTNING OVER EUROPE: Summer thunderstorm season is underway in Europe. As a result, space lightning is on the rise. Martin Popek photographed these specimens over Nýdek in the Czech republic on July 10th:


These are sprites--an exotic form of upper atmospheric electricity sometimes called "space lightning" because they reach altitudes associated with meteors, noctilucent clouds and 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.

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. "They are easily detected by certain cameras," says lightning scientist Oscar van der Velde of the Technical University of Catalonia, Spain. "If a storm is in the mood, you may record one every few minutes." Give it a try!

Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery

Realtime Aurora 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. 12, 2016, the network reported 24 fireballs.
(18 sporadics, 4 July Pegasids, 2 Northern June Aquilids)



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 12, 2016 there were 1711 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 NJ22

Jul 7

0.7 LD

10 m

2016 MO

Jul 7

6.6 LD

45 m

2016 NN15

Jul 8

4.3 LD

20 m

2016 ND1

Jul 10

10.4 LD

42 m

2016 NK22

Jul 11

0.7 LD

7 m

2016 NC1

Jul 13

7.3 LD

34 m

2016 NS

Jul 20

8.7 LD

35 m

2002 KL6

Jul 22

26.6 LD

1.4 km

2011 BX18

Jul 25

52.7 LD

1.1 km

2016 NW15

Jul 26

13.7 LD

35 m

2016 NX22

Aug 2

13 LD

88 m

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: 605.9 km/sec
density: 0.8 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2203 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B2
1759 UT Jul12
24-hr: B3 1103 UT Jul12
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2200 UTDaily Sun: 12 Jul 16Sunspot 2564 poses a slight threat forM-class solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 62
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 12 Jul 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 16 days (8%) 
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 12 Jul 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 95 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 12 Jul 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 3 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 5
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.7 nT
Bz: 0.9 nT south

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2203 UTCoronal Holes: 12 Jul 16
Earth is inside a stream of solar wind flowing from this enormous 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: 07-12-2016 19:55:03

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Jul 11 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


10 %

10 %


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 11 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


25 %

25 %


05 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


30 %

30 %


30 %

30 %