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Space Weather Update: 07/23/2016

By, 07/23/2016

STRONGEST FLARE OF 2016: Sunspot complex AR2565-AR2567 erupted on July 23rd, twice, producing two strong solar flares in quick succession. The first @ 0211 UT registered M5 on the Richter Scale of Flares. The second @ 0516 UT registered M7.6, making it the strongest flare of 2016 so far. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the blast:


Pulses of radiation from the two flares ionized the top of Earth's atmosphere, causing a blackout of shortwave radio transmissions over the Pacific side of Earth. These maps from NOAA show the frequencies and territories affected. People who might have noticed the fading signals include ham radio operators, mariners and aviators.

The explosions hurled an impressive CME into space: movie. The cloud is not heading directly for Earth. However, there is a slim chance it could deliver a glancing blow to our planet's magnetic field in the days ahead. NOAA analysts are modeling the CME to evaluate this possibility. Stay tuned for updates.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

WHERE NO DUCK HAS GONE BEFORE: Yes, that really is a Vulcan rubber duck! The students of Earth to Sky Calculus flew the pointy-eared water bird to the stratosphere on July 19, 2016, as part of their ongoing program to monitor cosmic rays in the stratosphere. Here he is at the apex of the flight, 109,580 ft:


"Mr Squawk" hitchhiked on a helium balloon payload that carried an array of X-ray/gamma-ray sensors. By launching these sensors 3 or 4 times a month, the students have shown that cosmic rays are intensifying--a trend that affects mountain climbers, air travelers, high-altitude drones and astronauts on the International Space Station.

This research is crowd funded. Would you like to support it? Buy a duck! Edge of Space Vulcan Ducks are now available in the Earth to Sky Store.

THE SPHERICAL MILKY WAY: The Milky Way is beautiful. The Milky Way in 3D ... it's sublime. Last week on the island of La Palma, astrophotographers Karoline Mrazek and Erwin Matys used a Ricoh Theta S camera to photograph our own galaxy with a spherical lens. To see their results, click on the "theta" symbol:


"The interactive spherical image shows the bright galactic center above the pitch black volcanic landscape of La Palma," says Mrazek and Matys. "The full band of the Milky Way is clearly visible as it crosses the zenith."

"This proves that it is possible to shoot low-light celestial objects such as the milky way and the zodiacal light with the Theta S. We did 25 exposures of 60 seconds at ISO 800 each for the sky and for the landscape. The individual images were stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and the two stacks were combined with Photoshop."

Mrazek and Matys are founding members of the astrophotography groupproject nightflight, and they've been testing the Ricoh Theta S in many settings for night-sky photography. Their complete report on spherical astrophotography is highly recommended. Read it here.

AFTER THE STORM, MAMMATUS CLOUDS: Yesterday, a severe thunderstorm swept through St Claude, Manitoba, drenching the landscape and cutting power to residents. "While waiting for power to be restored, I noticed these cloud formations drifting serenely overhead," reports Paul Moffat. "It seemed to make the storm's fury worthwhile."


These are mammatus clouds. Named for their resemblance to a cow's underbelly, they often appear around the unstable edges of severe thunderstorms. Researchers have called mammatus clouds an "intriguing enigma," because they have not been studied as much as other clouds, and there is much uncertainty about how they form.

Photographers and artists have long valued mammatus clouds for their strangely beautiful appearance. Indeed, Gedzelman (1989) notes that the pendulous lobes appear in paintings as early as the 1500s. Mammatus clouds often go unnoticed because potential observers have been chased indoors by the rain. If you are one of them, go back outside when the downpour stops; you could witness a beautiful mystery in the sky.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Aurora 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. 23, 2016, the network reported 24 fireballs.
(22 sporadics, 1 Southern delta Aquariid, 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 23, 2016 there were 1713 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 NS

Jul 20

8.7 LD

34 m

2002 KL6

Jul 22

26.6 LD

1.4 km

2016 NJ39

Jul 22

11.5 LD

39 m

2011 BX18

Jul 25

52.7 LD

1.1 km

2016 NW15

Jul 26

13.7 LD

35 m

2016 NE39

Jul 26

6.7 LD

88 m

2016 NX22

Aug 2

12.9 LD

87 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: 367.8 km/sec
density: 3.4 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1753 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: C1
1257 UT Jul23
24-hr: M7 0516 UT Jul23
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1700 UTDaily Sun: 23 Jul 16Sunspot complex AR2565-AR2567 is about to leave the Earthside of the sun. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 36
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 23 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 23 Jul 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 90 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 23 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= 3
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 7.4 nT
Bz: 0.1 nT south

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1752 UTCoronal Holes: 23 Jul 16
Solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole could brush past Earth on July 23-24. 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: 07-22-2016 16:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Jul 22 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


30 %

30 %


05 %

05 %

Geomagnetic Storms:
Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth's magnetic field are given for three activity levels: activeminor stormsevere stormUpdated at: 2016 Jul 22 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


10 %

10 %


01 %

01 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


20 %

20 %


25 %

25 %


15 %

15 %