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Space Weather Update: 09/09/2016

By, 09/09/2016

CHANCE OF STORMS ON SEPT. 11TH: NOAA analysts say that on Sept. 11th Earth could encounter a solar wind stream, which is flowing from a southern coronal hole on the sun. When this same stream recently struck NASA's STEREO-A spacecraft, the winds inside were blowing 650 km/s.  If those high wind speeds continue on Sept. 11th, polar sky watchers can expect a nice display of auroras.Aurora alerts: text or voice

INTENSE AIRGLOW OVER MAINE: Not every green light in the sky is the aurora borealis. On Sept. 2nd, Mike Taylor was in the Acadia National Park of Maine when he witnessed an intense display of airglow:


"It was the craziest airglow I've ever seen," says Taylor.  "I was with 3 other photographers and we all saw this with our naked eyes."

Airglow is not an aurora.  It's a chemical reaction involving oxygen in the upper atmosphere driven in part by solar ultraviolet radiation and cosmic rays.  Visibility waxes and wanes with conditions such as pressure and temperature in the rarified air more than 90 km above Earth's surface. Gravity waves traveling up from the planet below impress the verdant glow with a dramatic rippling structure.

Dark nights with a new or thin crescent Moon are the best times to catch a glimpse of airglow. Often, the glow is dim and pale to the naked eye, revealing its green color only to the lens of cameras set for Milky Way-length exposures. On rare occasions, such as Sept 2nd in the Acadia National Park, the human eye is more than enough. Browse the airglow photo gallery for more sightings.

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

ASTEROID BUZZES EARTH, HEADS FOR MOON: Newly discovered asteroid2016 RB1 flew past Earth on Sept 7th only 25,000 miles above our planet's south pole. Because of the asteroid's southern trajectory, it did not pass within the orbits of any communication or weather satellites--but it was close. After it buzzed Earth, the space rock turned and headed for the Moon, executing a wider flyby of 179,000 miles on Sept. 8th. Researchers say 2016 RB1 is ~50 ft in diameter, about the size of a grey whale.

Ernesto Guido used a remotely-controled telescope in Siding Spring, Australia, to photograph the asteroid as it was approaching Earth on Sept. 7th:


"It was shining about as brightly as a 12th magnitude star," says Guido. The asteroid was also photographed by Marian Urbanik of Čadca in the Slovak republic (photo) and Gianluca Masi of Ceccano, Italy (photo).

Where to next? This asteroid spends all of its time in the inner solar system. In Oct. 2017 it will fly by Venus. In March 2020 it will fly by Venus again before returning to Earth in June of the same year. Not one of these encounters is expected to result in an impact. This table from NASA lists the many close approaches of 2016 RB1.

Asteroid 2016 RB1 was discovered on Sept. 5th by astronomers using the 60-inch Cassegrain reflector telescope of the Catalina Sky Survey, located at the summit of Mount Lemmon in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Arizona.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery


 Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere

Updated: Sept.3, 2016 // Next Flight: Sept. 10, 2016

Sept. 3, 2016: On Sept. 2nd, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus conducted a successful transcontinental launch of two space weather balloons--one from New Hampshire and another from California. The New Hampshire balloon recorded the highest levels of atmospheric radiation since our monitoring program began two years ago. Students are reducing the data now, and we will report the results in the coming week.

While you wait, here is a shot of the Atlantic coast of Maine taken during the Sept. 2nd balloon flight from an altitude of 118,000 feet:


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. Furthermore, there are studies ( #1,#2#3#4) linking cosmic rays with cardiac arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death in the general population. Our latest measurements show that cosmic rays are intensifying, with an increase of almost 13% since 2015:


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.

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 the maximum using balloons in the 1930s and it is what we are measuring today.

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.

 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 Sep. 9, 2016, the network reported 27 fireballs.
(20 sporadics, 7 September epsilon Perseids)



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 September 9, 2016 there were potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2004 BO41

Sep 7

38.9 LD

1.1 km

2016 RB1

Sep 7

0.1 LD

12 m

2016 RO17

Sep 8

2.3 LD

23 m

2016 RL17

Sep 9

8.7 LD

22 m

2016 QS44

Sep 10

7.9 LD

57 m

2015 KE

Sep 10

14.9 LD

23 m

2016 RH17

Sep 11

6.1 LD

80 m

2016 QL44

Sep 17

3.6 LD

44 m

2016 QS11

Sep 18

12.2 LD

30 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: 385.6 km/sec
density: 2.9 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1834 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B2
1317 UT Sep09
24-hr: B7 0323 UT Sep09
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1800 UTDaily Sun: 09 Sep 16Sunspot AR2585 is large but quiet. Solar activity remains low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 49
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 09 Sep 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 20 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 09 Sep 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 95 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 09 Sep 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: 4.2 nT
Bz: 1.2 nT north

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1835 UTCoronal Holes: 09 Sep 16
A stream of solar wind flowing from this southern coronal hole could brush agaist Earth's magnetic field on Sept. 11th. 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 Sep 08 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 Sep 08 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


05 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


25 %

20 %


25 %

20 %