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Space Weather Update: 09/24/2016

By, 09/24/2016

AURORAS LOVE EQUINOXES: At this time of year, even a gentle gust of solar wind can spark auroras. NOAA forecasters say that such a gust is coming on Sept. 25th when a stream of solar wind flowing from a minor coronal hole is expected to reach Earth. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for Northern Lights. Free:Space Weather Alerts

A BEAUTIFUL COINCIDENCE: What are the odds? Catching a lunar rainbow beneath a ribbon of green auroras is rare. Yet it happened twice this week in Iceland. Here is the first time. And here is the second:


"Big rain clouds had been rolling over the whole day with good gaps in between," says photographer Sigurdur William Brynjarsson, who took the picture on Sept. 20th from Reykjanes, Iceland. "The Moon was almost full and aurora activity was picking up. I knew conditions were perfect to capture a lunar rainbow with the Northern Lights together."

"I've never witnessed a lunar rainbow and lady Aurora dancing hand in hand before," he adds. "What a night... =) "

Now that autumn has arrived, rainclouds are mixing with auroras around the Arctic Circle on a regular basis. Those raindrops will turn into snowflakes as winter approaches. Until then, keep an eye on the photo gallery for more moonbows in the Arctic night.

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

WATCH OUT FOR THE EVENING STAR: Sky watchers, keep an eye on the sunset. Venus is emerging from the glare of the sun, climbing higher in the evening sky as September comes to an end. Frank A. Rodriguez sends this picture from Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands:


"I caught Venus shining next to Roque Nublo, an enormous basalt monolith of 80 meters located in the center of the island," says Rodriguez. "In the distance we can see the Teide volcano on the island of Tenerife, about 106 km away. It is the highest point in Spain."

Graphic artist Larry Koehn has created an excellent animation showing how Venus will become even more visible in the weeks and months ahead. A date of special interest is Oct. 3rd when Venus poses next to the slender crescent Moon: sky map. Mark your calendar and enjoy the show.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery


 Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere

Updated: Sept. 20, 2016 // Next Flight: Sept. 27, 2016

Sept. 20, 2016: Readers, thank you for your patience while we continue to develop this new section of We've been working to streamline our data reduction, allowing us to post results from balloon flights much more rapidly, and we have developed a new data product, shown here:


This plot displays radiation measurements not only in the stratosphere, but also at aviation altitudes. Dose rates are expessed as multiples of sea level. For instance, we see that boarding a plane that flies at 25,000 feet exposes passengers to dose rates ~10x higher than sea level. At 40,000 feet, the multiplier is closer to 50x. These measurements are made by our usual cosmic ray payload as it passes through aviation altitudes en route to the stratosphere over California.

What is this all about? 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 more than 12% 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.

 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. 24, 2016, the network reported 23 fireballs.
(23 sporadics)



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 24, 2016 there were 1730 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 RM20

Sep 20

6.2 LD

25 m

2009 UG

Sep 30

7.3 LD

101 m

2100 Ra-Shalom

Oct 9

58.3 LD

1.1 km

2014 UR

Oct 18

12 LD

21 m

2005 SE71

Oct 24

72.2 LD

1.0 km

2003 TL4

Oct 27

10.1 LD

565 m

2003 YT1

Oct 31

13.5 LD

850 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.


Current Conditions

Solar wind
speed: 359.9 km/sec
density: 15.8 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2208 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B6
1816 UT Sep24
24-hr: B6 1816 UT Sep24
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2200 UTDaily Sun: 24 Sep 16New sunspot AR2597 is growing rapidly but does not yet pose a threat for strong solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 49
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 24 Sep 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 20 days (7%) 
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 24 Sep 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 86 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 24 Sep 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: 6.2 nT
Bz: 0.2 nT south

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2208 UTCoronal Holes: 24 Sep 16
A large coronal hole is emerging over the sun's eastern limb. 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 24 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 Sep 24 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

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24-48 hr


15 %

25 %


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High latitudes

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24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


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