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Space Weather Update: 08/19/2016

By, 08/19/2016

CO-ROTATING INTERACTION REGION: A co-rotating interaction region (CIR) is expected to hit Earth's magnetic field on Aug. 19th.  CIRs are transition zones between slow- and fast-moving solar wind streams. Shock waves and density gradients inside these regions often do a good job sparking auroras.  NOAA forecasters say there is a 40% chance of G1-class geomagnetic storms when the CIR arrives. Aurora alerts: text or voice

PLANETS IN THE SUNSET SKY: Venus and Jupiter are converging in the sunset sky for a close encounter on Aug.27th. Yesterday in the Snowy Mountains of NSW Australia, Phil Hart photographed the two bright planets approaching one another with Mercury looking on:


"A highlight of six days backcountry skiing in NSW was the planetary alignment of Venus, Mercury and Jupiter," says Hart. "It took a few nights to get the weather and scenery to cooperate, but after an hour of trapsing around and lying down in the snow, I managed to capture this shot on our last night out."

The view will improve in the evenings ahead as the distance between Jupiter and Venus decreases. At closest approach on Aug 27th, the two worlds will appear only about 1/15th of a degree apart. If you hold a pencil at arm's length, the eraser would cover both planets at once. Moreover, Venus and Jupiter will easily fit within a telescopic field of view--an amazing sight if you have a backyard telescope.

Remember, though, that a telescope is not required.  Venus and Jupiter are bright enough to see with the naked eye even from light-polluted urban areas. Try to catch them about 30 minutes after sunset before the sky fades completely black.  The sight of two planets in conjunction surrounded by twilight blue is extra-beautiful.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

INTERCONTINENTAL BALLOON NETWORK: Aug 21, 2016, is an important date. It's the one year pre-anniversary of the Great American Solar Eclipse. On Aug. 21, 2017, the Moon will pass in front of the sun, producing a total eclipse visible from coast to coast in the USA. To record the eclipse as never before, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus will lead more than a dozen teams of citizen scientists in launching balloons through the path of totality. Our goal: to photograph the eclipse from the stratosphere and create a unique movie of the Moon's shadow sweeping across the continent. Such an ambitious project requires practice, and we're starting now:


For the next month, we'll be launching groups of balloons from multiple sites around North and South America. Each site (including the one in Chile) will be crewed by students and teachers involved in the Solar Eclipse Balloon Network. Launching large numbers of balloons simultaneously is a key logistical challenge for the 2017 eclipse, and this will be good practice indeed. The first launch on Aug. 21st will involve as many as four balloons lifting off from Chile, California, Oregon and Illinois.

Because our standard eclipse payload includes radiation sensors, we will be learning a great deal about the geographical distribution of cosmic rays in Earth's atmosphere. The Chilean launch, in particular, promises interesting results as it occurs directly beneath the South Atlantic Anomaly. Stay tuned!

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 Aug. 19, 2016, the network reported 28 fireballs.
(23 sporadics, 4 Perseids, 1 kappa Cygnid)



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 August 19, 2016 there were potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2000 DP107

Aug 12

66.5 LD

1.0 km

2016 PS26

Aug 25

13.8 LD

33 m

2016 PA40

Aug 29

14.6 LD

57 m

2004 BO41

Sep 7

38.9 LD

1.1 km

2015 KE

Sep 10

14.9 LD

23 m

2009 UG

Sep 30

7.3 LD

101 m

2100 Ra-Shalom

Oct 9

58.3 LD

1.1 km

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: 359.4 km/sec
density: 2.0 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2113 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B1
1700 UT Aug19
24-hr: B1 0930 UT Aug19
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2100 UTDaily Sun: 19 Aug 16Not one of these sunspots has the type of unstable magnetic field that poses a threat for strong flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 54
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 19 Aug 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 20 days (9%) 
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 19 Aug 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 82 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 19 Aug 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 1 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 2
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.7 nT
Bz: 2.0 nT north

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2114 UTCoronal Holes: 18 Aug 16
Solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole should reach Earth on Aug. 20th (preceded on Aug 19th by a CIR). Credit: NASA/SDO.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: 08-06-2016 16:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Aug 18 2200 UTC


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Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth's magnetic field are given for three activity levels: activeminor stormsevere stormUpdated at: 2016 Aug 18 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

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