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Space Weather Update: 10/05/2016

By, 10/05/2016

NEXT STOP, SATURN: Two nights ago, the Moon passed by Venus. Tonight, it's visiting Saturn. Step outside after sunset to find the ringed planet not far from the 22% illuminated lunar crescent: sky map.

GRAVITY WAVES ABOVE HURRICANE MATTHEW: Powerful Hurricane Matthew is scouring the islands of the Caribbean with 145 mph winds.  Orbiting high above the tempest in the darkness of space, the NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP satellite has observed the storm's ripple effect on the upper atmosphere:


These ripples are called "gravity waves"--essentially, waves of pressure and temperature excited by the upward motion of air from the storm below. Gravity does not vary inside these waves; instead, they get their name from the fact that gravity acts as a vertical restoring force that tries to restore equilibrium to up-and-down moving air. Similar patterns have been observed above powerful thunderstorms

Matthew's gravity waves are visible from the ground as well.  Frankie Lucena of Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, captured them in his recent snapshots of sprites above the hurricane:


"Steven Miller of Colorado State University was kind enough to prepare these images for me to confirm that my sprite photo did contain gravity waves," says Lucena. "My location in southwestern Puerto Rico is noted in the satellite image above. By pointing my camera at the lightning, I also caught the waves."

Left to themselves, gravity waves would be invisible to the human eye. We see them, however, because they impress their patterns upon a luminous phenomenon called "airglow." Learn more about that in the next article, Amazing Airglow over Easter Island.

Realtime Space Weather 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

Realtime Sprite 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. 5, 2016, the network reported 39 fireballs.
(39 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 October 5, 2016 there were potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


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 TU

Oct 3

4.7 LD

16 m

2016 SR2

Oct 7

3.8 LD

24 m

2016 TG

Oct 7

8.1 LD

36 m

2016 TC

Oct 8

7.2 LD

28 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: 459.8 km/sec
density: 3.3 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2105 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B2
1957 UT Oct05
24-hr: B5 0114 UT Oct05
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2100 UTDaily Sun: 05 Oct 16Sunspot AR2599 is large but quiet. It has a simple magnetic field that poses no threat for strong flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 33
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 05 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 05 Oct 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 93 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 05 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= 4
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 3.5 nT
Bz: 0.0 nT

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2105 UTCoronal Holes: 05 Oct 16
Earth is 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 04 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 04 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

10 %


01 %

01 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


15 %

15 %


15 %

10 %