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Space Weather Update: 08/29/2016

By, 08/29/2016

QUIET WITH A SLIGHT CHANCE OF FLARES: Following weeks without any significant flares, solar activity remains low. There is, however, a slight chance of solar flares this week from growing sunspot AR2582.  NOAA forecasters estimate a 5% chance of M-class eruptions on Aug. 29th - Aug. 31st. Solar flare alerts: text orvoice

COSMIC RAYS INTENSIFY: Researchers have long known that solar activity and cosmic rays have a yin-yang relationship. As solar activity declines, cosmic rays intensify. Lately, solar activity has been very low indeed. Are cosmic rays responding? The answer is "yes." and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been using helium balloons to monitor cosmic rays in the stratosphere over California. Their latest data show an increase of almost 13% since 2015.


Cosmic rays, which are accelerated toward Earth by distant supernova explosions and other violent events, are an important form of space weather. They can seed cloudstrigger lightning, and penetrate commercial airplanes. Furthermore, there are studies ( #1#2#3#4) linking cosmic rays with cardiac arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death in the general population.

Why are cosmic rays intensifying? The main reason is the sun. Solar storm clouds such as coronal mass ejections (CMEs) sweep aside cosmic rays when they pass by Earth. During Solar Maximum, CMEs are abundant and cosmic rays are held at bay. Now, however, the solar cycle is swinging toward Solar Minimum, allowing cosmic rays to return. Another reason could be the weakening of Earth's magnetic field, which helps protect us from deep-space radiation.

There's a new section of our website where you can monitor cosmic rays in the atmosphere. From here, scroll down a few inches to find the latest measurements, the date of the next balloon flight, and more information about the data and sensors.

THIS RESEARCH IS CROWD-FUNDED: The cosmic ray research presented on is done by students, driven by curiosity, and funded entirely by readers.  Our latest flight over California on Aug. 21st was sponsored by World Tech Toys of Valencia CA.  In exchange for their generous donation of $750, we flew a toy Striker Drone to the edge of space:


HD video and poster-quality images of the drone in space are now being used by World Tech Toys for marketing and outreach--an out-of-this-world bargain.

Our next flights on Sept. 2nd and Sept. 10th need sponsors. Would you like to assist?  Contact Dr. Tony Phillips to make arrangements.

CHINESE QUANTUM PHYSICS SATELLITE: On Aug. 16th, the Chinese space agency launched a new kind of satellite from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Nicknamed "Micius," after 5th century Chinese philosopher, the Quantum Experiments at Space Scale mission intends to establish an un-crackable quantum communications network and to test exotic theories of quantum teleportation.  This extraordinary picture taken by Yingwei Chen just a few days ago shows that Micius is working:


"In the early morning of Aug. 27th, I photographed an alignment test between the satellite and a telescope at the Xinglong Observation Station," explains Chen. "This is one of the five stations used for communicating with Micius. The telescope sends up a red laser beam to the satellite. Once the red laser is received, the satellite responds with a green laser beam. The telescope captures the beam and feeds it into an optical fiber if successful communication is established. The whole send-and receive process takes less than 3 seconds. In the picture, the red light has a wavelength of 671 nm and the green light has a wavelength of 532 nm."

One of the main goals of Micius will be to demonstrate quantum key distribution(QKD) between the satellite and stations on the ground. A quantum key is a string of ones and zeros, representing the quantum states of particles. These can be used to encode and decode hack-proof messages.

Another goal is to test some of the strange theories of quantum physics. For instance, Chinese physicists will attempt to quantum teleport a photon state from the Ali observatory on the Tibetan Plateau to the satellite, proving if successful thatentanglement can exist between particles separated by orbital distances.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery


 Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere

Updated: Aug. 27, 2016 // Next Flight: Sept. 2, 2016

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 latest measurements show that cosmic rays are intensifying, with an increase of almost 13% since 2015:


Why are cosmic rays increasing? The main reason is the sun. Solar activity helps push deep space cosmic rays out of the solar system. Lately, however, solar activity has been low. More cosmic rays have been able to penetrate the inner solar system--including Earth. As the current solar cycle ebbs, we can expect cosmic rays to continue intensifying for years to come.

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.

The data points in the graph above correspond to the peak of the Reneger-Pfotzer maximum, which lies about 67,000 feet above central California. When cosmic rays crash into Earth's atmosphere, they produce a spray of secondary particles that is most intense at the entrance to the stratosphere. Physicists Eric Reneger and Georg Pfotzer discovered this maximum using balloons in the 1930s and it is what we are measuring today.

 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. 29, 2016, the network reported 23 fireballs.
(22 sporadics, 1 Southern delta Aquariid)



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 29, 2016 there were 1726 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 PS26

Aug 25

13.8 LD

34 m

2016 QA2

Aug 28

0.2 LD

40 m

2016 PA40

Aug 29

14.5 LD

54 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.


Current Conditions

Solar wind
speed: 351.8 km/sec
density: 9.1 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1914 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: C1
1736 UT Aug29
24-hr: C2 0347 UT Aug29
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1900 UTDaily Sun: 29 Aug 16Sunspot complex AR2582-2583 is crackling with minor C-class solar flares. Other than that, solar activity is very low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 64
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 29 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 29 Aug 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 85 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 29 Aug 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 2 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 2
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 6.5 nT
Bz: 2.6 nT south

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1914 UTCoronal Holes: 29 Aug 16
Solar wind flowing from the indicated minor coronal hole could reach Earth on Aug. 30-31. Credit: NASA/SDO.Noctilucent Clouds NASA's AIM spacecraft has suffered an anomaly, and a software patch is required to fix it. As a result, current noctilucent cloud images will not return until late September 2016.


Switch view: Europe, USA, Asia, PolarUpdated at: 08-06-2016 16:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Aug 28 2200 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 Aug 28 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

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High latitudes

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