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Space Weather Update: 07/14/2016

By, 07/14/2016

CELESTIAL TRIANGLE: When the sun goes down tonight, step outside and look up. There's a celestial triangle in the southern sky. Vertices: the waxing full Moon, red Mars, and golden Saturn. Try to catch them before the sky fades completely black. The Moon and planets surrounded by twilight blue look extra-beautiful. [sky map]

SUPER NOCTILUCENT CLOUDS: Last night, a bank of intensely luminous noctilucent clouds (NLCs) rolled over northern Europe, filling the midnight sky with electric-blue ripples and swirls. "The clouds were very bright and beautiful," says Kairo Kiitsak, who sends this picture from Simuna, Estonia:


Similar displays were observed in England, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Scotland and the Netherlands. Across the Atlantic Ocean, the clouds even dipped down into the continental United States.  Dustin Guy of Seattle, Washington, reports:  "I witnessed the most vibrant NLC display that I've seen in a number of years. They lit up the water of Lake Washington at 330 AM local time."

NLCs are Earth's highest clouds. They form at the edge of space more than 80 km above Earth's surface, when wisps of summertime water vapor wrap themselves around meteor smoke. The resulting ice crystals glow electric blue in the night sky.

In the 19th century, you had to travel near Arctic latitudes to see these clouds. In recent years, however, they have been sighted as far south as Colorado and Kansas. The spread could be a result of climate change.

Observing tips: Look west 30 to 60 minutes after sunset when the sun has dipped ~10 degrees below the horizon. If you see luminous blue-white tendrils spreading across the sky, you may have spotted a noctilucent cloud.

Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery

RAINBOW BREATHING WHALES: "Rainbow breathing whale" sounds like a mythical creature. On July 12th, Mila Zinkova of San Francisco saw one ... for real. She took this picture looking over the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge:


"A few humpback whales crossed under Golden Gate Bridge and entered the Bay," says Zinkova. "Just then I saw their rainbow-colored sprays. It was beautiful!"

This is not mythology. It's physics. When Zinkova took the picture, the sun was behind her back shining down into the droplet-filled exhaust of the whale's spout. Sunbeams reflecting from the water droplets produced a prismatic sprayof color just like an ordinary rainbow.

Of course it didn't look ordinary. "The full video," says Zinkova, "may be foundhere."

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Aurora 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. 14, 2016, the network reported 55 fireballs.
(53 sporadics, 1 psi Cassiopeid, 1 alpha Capricornid)



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 14, 2016 there were 1712 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


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: 550.2 km/sec
density: 2.0 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2103 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B2
1843 UT Jul14
24-hr: B4 0000 UT Jul14
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2100 UTDaily Sun: 14 Jul 16Not one of these sunspots has the type of unstable magnetic field that poses a threat for strong solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 54
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 14 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 14 Jul 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 97 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 14 Jul 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 2 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 4
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 7.5 nT
Bz: 3.9 nT north

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2102 UTCoronal Holes: 14 Jul 16
Earth 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: 07-14-2016 17:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Jul 13 2120 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 Jul 13 2120 UTCMid-latitudes

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High latitudes

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