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Space Weather Update: 09/26/2016

By, 09/26/2016

BRIGHT AURORAS: Yesterday, Sept. 25th, Earth passed through a fold in the heliospheric current sheet. The crossing sparked a G1-class geomagnetic storm and bright auroras around the Arctic Circle. Christian Schartner was on an airplane flying from Munich to Iceland when the window filled with an explosion of color:


"What a fantastic start to our Iceland trip!" says Schartner.

Many people have never heard of the heliospheric current sheet. It is one of the biggest things in the solar system--a vast undulating system of electrical currents shaped like the skirt of a ballerina. Earth dips in and out of it all the time. On Sept. 25th, Earth found itself on the side of the current sheet containing negative-polarity magnetic fields. Such fields can open a crack in our planet's magnetosphere, allowing solar wind to pour in and fuel colorful displays like Schartner witnessed.

"Shooting the aurora from inside an airplane was not easy--especially without a tripod," says Schartner. "Thanks to modern technology, I was able to capture it with a fast lens and very high ISO setting." More pictures of the display, inside of airplanes and out, may be found in the photo gallery:

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

CORONAL HOLE TURNING TOWARD EARTH: A vast "coronal hole" has opened up in the sun's atmosphere, and it is spewing solar wind into space. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory is monitoring the structure as it turns toward Earth:


Coronal holes are regions in the sun's atmosphere where the magnetic field peels back and allows solar wind to escape. Today's coronal hole is a big one, and the emerging solar wind stream is broad. It is very unlikely to miss Earth when it arrives on Sept. 28-29. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras later this week. Free: Aurora Alerts.

THE STRANGE THING ABOUT THIS SUNSET.... Yesterday at sunset, Mila Zinkova was looking west from Pacifica CA when "something strange happened," she reports. The sun split into multiple layers and a green flash appeared. But, that wasn't the strange thing. Temperature inversions above the ocean surfacefrequently distort the setting sun off the Califonia coast. "Take a closer look at the picture," urges Zinkova. "Where did that vertical pillar of light at the bottom come from?" Scroll down for the answer:


"It's the spout of a whale," she explains.

In the complete video she recorded, multiple spouts can be seen grazing the bottom of the miraged sun. "Of course the sunset was unusual not because of whales, but because of some very complex temperature inversions in the atmosphere. While the lowest sun was setting, producing green flashes, the upper suns were not in a hurry to leave. They kept disappearing and reappearing."

Just another evening on the California coast.... Turn up the volume and watch it again.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery


 Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere

Updated: Sept. 26, 2016 // Next Flight: Oct. 1, 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. 26, 2016, the network reported 17 fireballs.
(17 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 26, 2016 there were 1730 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 RM20

Sep 20

6.2 LD

25 m

2016 SJ

Sep 21

0.4 LD

7 m

2016 SC

Sep 25

3.1 LD

12 m

2016 SG

Sep 27

2.3 LD

21 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: 455.7 km/sec
density: 5.6 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2025 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B3
1913 UT Sep26
24-hr: B5 0635 UT Sep26
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2000 UTDaily Sun: 26 Sep 16The magnetic field of sunspot AR2597 is in decay and no longer poses a threat for M-class solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 18
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 26 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 26 Sep 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 85 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 26 Sep 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 3 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 4
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 9.8 nT
Bz: 2.9 nT south

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2026 UTCoronal Holes: 26 Sep 16
A large coronal hole is turning toward Earth. Solar wind flowing from the structure should reach our planet by Sept. 28-29. 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 25 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


01 %

01 %


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 25 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


25 %

20 %


05 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


20 %

20 %


20 %

25 %