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Space Weather Update: 10/17/2016

By, 10/17/2016

MARS LANDING THIS WEDNESDAY: This Wednesday, Oct. 19th, a European Space Agency (ESA) probe named "Schiaparelli" will parachute to the surface of Mars following a fiery plunge through the atmosphere. Launched from Earth last March, Schiaparelli hitched a ride to Mars onboard the Trace Gas Orbiter, a satellite that will spend the next few years scanning the Red Planet for chemical signs of life--especially biogenic methane. Follow the action on the ESA's live webcast.

"THE SKY EXPLODED" ON OCT. 16TH: Yesterday, as predicted, Earth entered a fast-moving stream of solar wind. First contact produced a bright display of auroras over the northern reaches of Scandinavia. Independent observers used the same three words to describe what happened: "the sky exploded." Tour guide Oliver Wright sends this picture from Abisko, Sweden:


"Over the years, I've probably seen more than 200 auroras," says Wright. "This one ranks in the top 3. It was visible despite intense glare from the full Moon."

Wright says he has tonight off.  He'll probably be outside anyway. Earth is moving deeper into the solar wind stream, and another display is possible on Oct. 17-18.  A live webcam operated by Lights over Lapland in Abisko National Park is recording the action. Check it out.

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

WEEKEND SUPERMOON: This weekend's full Moon is a "supermoon"--as much as 14% closer and 30% brighter than other full Moons we have seen earlier this year. Chris Cook photographed the lunar orb rising over Cape Cod, Massachusetts:


The scientific term for the supermoon phenomenon is "perigee moon." Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon's orbit. The Moon follows an elliptical path around Earth with one side ("perigee") about 50,000 km closer than the other ("apogee"). Full Moons that occur on the perigee side of the Moon's orbit seem extra big and bright. That's what is happening this weekend.

Contrary to popular belief, supermoons are not especially rare. In fact, according to NASA, 2016 ends with three supermoons in a row. Next month's full Moon on Nov. 14th will be extra-super as the Moon becomes full only 2 hours away from perigee, making it not only the closest full Moon of 2016, but also the closest full Moon to date in the 21st century. Mark your calendar for that!

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

HALLOWEEN AT THE EDGE OF SPACE: Looking for a unique Halloween gift? This one comes straight from the edge of space! To raise money for their cosmic ray research program, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have flown a dozen trick or treating bears to the stratosphere, more than 115,000 feet high:


You can have one for only $49.95. The bear and his sidekick pumpkin come with a greeting card showing the duo in flight and certifying that they have been to the stratosphere and back again.

More funky edge-of-space gifts may be found in the Earth to Sky store.  All proceeds support cosmic ray balloon launches and STEM education.

Realtime Airglow Photo Gallery

Realtime Sprite 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. 17, 2016, the network reported 12 fireballs.
(9 sporadics, 1 epsilon Geminid, 1 Southern Taurid, 1 Orionid)




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 17, 2016 there were 1736 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 TM56

Oct 14

3.8 LD

25 m

2016 TZ55

Oct 15

2.1 LD

18 m

1993 TZ

Oct 16

14.4 LD

28 m

2016 TH10

Oct 16

7.3 LD

46 m

2014 UR

Oct 18

12 LD

21 m

2016 TY55

Oct 18

2.6 LD

18 m

2016 TE55

Oct 18

13.2 LD

28 m

2005 SE71

Oct 24

72.2 LD

1.0 km

2003 TL4

Oct 27

10.1 LD

565 m

2016 TB57

Oct 31

5.2 LD

26 m

2003 YT1

Oct 31

13.5 LD

850 m

2016 TG55

Nov 4

3.9 LD

31 m

2007 LS

Nov 6

33.3 LD

1.2 km

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: 751.9 km/sec
density: 3.6 protons/cm3

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1901 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B1
1411 UT Oct17
24-hr: C4 0039 UT Oct17
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1900 UTDaily Sun: 17 Oct 16All of these sunspots are quiet and stable. Solar flare activity remains very low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 25
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 17 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 17 Oct 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 81 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 17 Oct 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: 3.5 nT
Bz: 0.2 nT south

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1900 UTCoronal Holes: 17 Oct 16
Earth is inside 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 16 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 16 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


45 %

15 %


15 %

01 %


05 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


20 %

20 %


30 %

20 %