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Space Weather Update: 10/04/2016

By, 10/04/2016

POLAR MAGNETIC STORMS: Minor G1-class geomagnetic storms are underway on Oct. 4th as Earth slowly exits a high-speed stream of solar wind. Polar sky watchers should remain alert for auroras: realtime photo gallery.

RED AIRGLOW OVER EASTER ISLAND: Not every colorful light in the night sky is an aurora.  Especially not in the South Pacific. Yuri Beletsky was on a beach in Easter Island, Chile, two nights ago when the starry canopy turned red:


"There was no fire," says Beletsky. "This is an amazing display of airglow."

Airglow is aurora-like phenomenon caused by chemical reactions in the upper atmosphere. Human eyes seldom notice the faint glow, because it is usually very faint, but it can be photographed on almost any clear dark night, anywhere in the world. 

Beletsky is a veteran photographer of airglow, having captured it dozens of times from sites in Chile and the South Pacific. "The intensity of airglow varies, and sometimes it can be more prominent, as it was on Oct. 2nd," he says.

The curious thing about Beletsky's photo is not the intensity of the airglow, but rather its color--red. Airglow is usually green, the color of light from oxygen atoms some 90 km to 100 km above Earth's surface. Where does the red come from? Instead of oxygen, OH can produce the ruddy hue. These neutral molecules (not to be confused with the OH- ion found in aqueous solutions) exist in a thin layer 85 km high where gravity waves often impress the red glow with a dramatic rippling structure.

Realtime Airglow Photo Gallery

SPRITES ABOVE HURRICANE MATTHEW: On Oct. 1st, Earth weather met space weather above Hurricane Matthew.  As the giant storm system was approaching the Greater Antilles, Frankie Lucena of Puerto Rico photographed red sprites shooting up from the thunderclouds:


Sprites are a strange and beautiful form of lightning that shoot up from the tops of electrical storms. They reach all the way up to the edge of space alongside meteors, auroras, and noctilucent clouds. Some researchers believe cosmic rays help trigger sprites, making them atrue space weather phenomenon.

Seeing sprites above a hurricane is rare. Many hurricanes don't even have regular lightning because the storms lack a key ingredient for electrical activity: vertical winds. (For more information read the Science@NASA article "Electric Hurricanes.") But Matthew is not a typical hurricane.  It's one of the most powerful in recent years, briefly reaching Category 5 at about the time Lucena photographed the sprites.  Perhaps extra-strong winds in the vicinity of the storm set the stage for upward-reaching bolts.

Sprite photographers across the Caribbean and the southeastern USA should be alert for more as the storm system approaches the mainland: observing tips.

Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery

ONE SMALL STEP FOR A COW... On Oct. 1st, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus launched a space weather balloon to monitor cosmic rays in the stratosphere. The flight was sponsored by these cows:


The space traveling bovines are mascots of Dairyland Electrical Industries, the world's leading manufacturer of solid-state decoupling products.  Dairyland's generous donation to our student research program paid for all the supplies necessary to get the payload of cows and radiation sensors off the ground. In exchange, they'll receive a complete HD video of the flight to use for marketing and other purposes.

Business owners, if you would like to contribute to a growing body of knowledgeabout atmospheric radiation and see your own marketing item at the edge of space, please contact Dr. Tony Phillips to sponsor a flight. Sponsorships are currently available for flights scheduled on Oct. 18th, Nov. 6th, 12th, and 20th.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery


 Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere

Updated: Sept. 29 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 Oct. 4, 2016, the network reported 40 fireballs.
(38 sporadics, 2 Southern Taurids)



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 October 4, 2016 there were 1731 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 TD

Sep 30

0.6 LD

10 m

2016 TA

Oct 2

2.3 LD

23 m

2016 TF

Oct 2

11.5 LD

31 m

2016 TH

Oct 3

0.3 LD

6 m

2016 SR2

Oct 7

3.8 LD

23 m

2016 TG

Oct 7

8.1 LD

36 m

2016 TC

Oct 8

7.2 LD

27 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: 531.6 km/sec
density: 3.8 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1956 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B3
1330 UT Oct04
24-hr: B6 0409 UT Oct04
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1900 UTDaily Sun: 04 Oct 16New sunspot AR2599 is large but quiet. It has a simple magnetic field that poses no threat for strong flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 32
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 04 Oct 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 21 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 04 Oct 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 88 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 04 Oct 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 2 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 5
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.8 nT
Bz: 1.9 nT south

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1956 UTCoronal Holes: 04 Oct 16
Earth is slowly exiting a stream of solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole. 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 Oct 03 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 Oct 03 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


20 %

10 %


05 %

01 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


15 %

15 %


15 %

10 %