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Space Weather Update: 10/07/2016

By, 10/07/2016

95% CHANCE OF NO SOLAR FLARES: NOAA forecasters have boosted the odds of an M-class flare today to 5%. In other words, there is a 95% chance of nothing happening.  Solar flare activity is likely to remain very low on Oct. 8th as the solar cycle continues its downward plunge. Free: Space Weather Alerts.

THE INTERCONTINENTAL SWx BALLOON NETWORK: For the past 2 years, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been launching "space weather balloons" to measure cosmic rays in the atmosphere.  Regular flights over California show that atmospheric radiation is intensifying in response to changes in the solar cycle.  Now, our monitoring program is going global.  In recent months we have been developing launch sites in multiple US states as well as South America and Europe. This is what the International Space Weather Ballooning Network looks like in October 2016:


Recent additions expand our coverage north of the Arctic Circle (Sweden) and closer to the core of the South Atlantic Anomaly (Argentina).  We also hope to add a site in Antarctica in 2018.

The purpose of launching balloons from so many places is to map out the distribution of cosmic rays around our planet. A single launch site is simply not enough to reveal the nonuniform shielding of our planet's magnetic field and the complicated response of our atmosphere to changes in solar activity.  

Our first test of the network validated these ideas. During a 48 hour period from August 20th-22nd we launched 4 balloons in quick succession from southern Chile, California, Oregon, and Washington. The ascending payloads sampled atmospheric radiation (X-rays and gamma-rays) from ground level to the stratosphere over a geographical range of more than 10,000 km. Here are the results:


The curves show radiation levels vs. altitude for each of the four sites. Numbers in parentheses are magnetic latitude--a measure of distance from Earth's magnetic equator.  

At a glance we can see that atmospheric radiation is a strong function of magnetic latitude. Washington State at +53o has more than twice the amount of radiation as southern Chile at -29o--despite the fact that the Chilean balloon flew into the outskirts of the South Atlantic Anomaly. Clearly, Earth's magnetic field provides very uneven protection against cosmic rays. 

To explore these findings further, we are planning additional network launches every month from now on, adding new sites as often as possible. A launch planned from inside the Arctic Circle in January 2017 is especially noteworthy. Stay tuned for updates from the Intercontinental SWx Balloon Network.

A BIRTHDAY CARD AT THE EDGE OF SPACE: Today, Oct. 7th, is Breeana Gilbert's birthday. To celebrate, her fiancé Joseph Nick sponsored a cosmic ray balloon and used it to fly this special birthday card to the edge of space:


"I wanted to give her a unique gift--one that is as beautiful as she is," says Joseph. "This card expressed how much I love her and look forward to our lives together exploring this fragile, beautiful blue dot that we call Earth."

The card flew to an altitude of 35.3 km (115,800 ft), and parachuted back to Earth on Oct. 4, 2016, landing in the Grapevine Mountains near Death Valley National Park. In addition to this snapshot, and the card itself, Breeana is receiving a complete HD video of the flight

Joseph's birthday gift to Breeana was also a gift to our radiation monitoring program. His sponsorship of the Oct 4th balloon flight made it possible for us to launch an array of cosmic ray sensors to the stratosphere. Thank you, Joseph!

Readers, if you would like to contribute to a growing body of knowledge about atmospheric radiation and see your own photo or card at the edge of space, pleasecontact Dr. Tony Phillips to sponsor a flight. Sponsorships are currently available for flights scheduled on Oct. 29th, Nov. 6th, and Nov. 12th.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

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. 7, 2016, the network reported 24 fireballs.
(23 sporadics, 1 Southern Taurid)



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 7, 2016 there were 1731 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 TQ2

Oct 2

3.3 LD

22 m

2016 TF

Oct 2

11.5 LD

31 m

2016 TK10

Oct 3

3 LD

24 m

2016 TH

Oct 3

0.3 LD

6 m

2016 TU

Oct 3

4.7 LD

16 m

2016 TS2

Oct 4

6.9 LD

23 m

2016 TP2

Oct 6

2.2 LD

21 m

2016 TM10

Oct 6

6.8 LD

23 m

2016 SR2

Oct 7

3.8 LD

24 m

2016 TG

Oct 7

8.1 LD

35 m

2016 TC

Oct 8

7.2 LD

28 m

2100 Ra-Shalom

Oct 9

58.3 LD

1.1 km

2016 TJ10

Oct 11

4.2 LD

37 m

2016 TH10

Oct 16

7.3 LD

51 m

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: 429.5 km/sec
density: 2.7 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1926 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B3
1727 UT Oct07
24-hr: B3 0040 UT Oct07
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1900 UTDaily Sun: 07 Oct 16Allof these sunspots are quiet and stable. Solar flare activity remains very low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 55
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 07 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 07 Oct 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 102 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 07 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= 3
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.6 nT
Bz: 3.3 nT north

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1927 UTCoronal Holes: 07 Oct 16
There are no large coronal holes on the Earthside of the sun. 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 06 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


05 %

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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 06 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


05 %

05 %


01 %

01 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


15 %

15 %


05 %

05 %