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Space Weather Update: 12/11/2015

By, 12/11/2015

GEMINID METEOR SHOWER: Earth is entering a stream of gravelly debris from "rock comet" 3200 Phaethon, source of annual Geminid meteor shower. Forecasters expect peak rates to occur on Dec. 13-14, when dark-sky observers in both hemispheres could see as many as 120 meteors per hour. Observing conditions will be nearly ideal because the shower peaks just a few days after the New Moon. Stay tuned for updates and, meanwhile, listen for Geminid echoes in the audio feed from our live meteor radar.

ARCTIC RECYCLING BINS: A co-rotating interaction region (CIR) hit Earth's magnetic field on Dec. 10th, and a high-speed stream of solar wind arrived soon thereafter. The double blow sparked bright auroras around the Arctic Circle. Oliver Wright photographed the display from Abisko, Sweden:


"I was setting up to guide a Lights Over Lapland aurora photo tour," says Wright. "I had good expectations because of the co-rotating interaction region I'd seen forecast on As I was waiting for the guests to arrive, I just popped my head out of the door to see a huge aurora developing. We can't always pick our compositions, but I reckon I might have got one of the best shots of the hotel's recycling bins in history!"

Arctic sky watchers should be alert for more auroras in the nights ahead. NOAA forecasters estimate a 45% chance of polar magnetic storms on Dec. 11 as the solar wind continues to blow. Aurora alerts: text or voice

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

LOCATING COMET CATALINA: How do you find Comet Catalina? Just go to Venus and turn left. Fritz Helmut Hemmerich photographed the pair from Tenerife, Canary Islands, on Dec. 9th:


Comet Catalina is passing by Venus in the morning sky this week, with only a few degrees separating the two. So let Venus be your guide. Wake up before sunrise, locate the Goddess of Love, and scan the surrounding sky using binoculars. Voilà--a comet! Detailed sky maps may be found in this article from Sky and Telescope.

Why does Comet Catalina have two tails? Almost all comets do. The sun-warmed nucleus of a comet spews a mixture of dust and gas into space. Quickly, the mixture separates into two distinct tails: The gaseous "ion tail" is pushed straight away from the sun by solar wind. The weightier dust tail resists solar wind pressure and aligns itself more or less with the comet's orbit. In Hemmerich's picture of Comet Catalina, the ion tail points up; the dust tail points down.

This is Comet Catalina's first visit to the inner solar system--and its last. The comet's close encounter with the sun in mid-November has placed it on a slingshot trajectory toward interstellar space. It will become easier to see in the weeks ahead as it approaches Earth, possibly brightening to 5th magnitude--barely visible to the naked eye and an easy target for backyard telescopes. Resources: 3D orbit,ephemerides.

Realtime Comet Photo Gallery

Realtime Meteor Photo Gallery

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery


 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 Dec. 10, 2015, the network reported 36 fireballs.
(23 sporadics, 6 Geminids, 6 sigma Hydrids, 1 December Monocerotid)



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 December 11, 2015 there were 1639 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2015 XV1

Dec 9

6.4 LD

18 m

2015 XU169

Dec 10

9.5 LD

16 m

1998 WT24

Dec 11

10.9 LD

1.1 km

2015 XA169

Dec 12

7.4 LD

15 m

2015 XR169

Dec 13

1.3 LD

8 m

2015 XX128

Dec 14

2.4 LD

25 m

2015 XN55

Dec 15

2.5 LD

14 m

2015 XE1

Dec 19

13.2 LD

28 m

2011 YD29

Dec 24

9.7 LD

24 m

2003 SD220

Dec 24

28.4 LD

1.8 km

2008 CM

Dec 29

22.8 LD

1.5 km

2004 MQ1

Jan 2

55.4 LD

1.1 km

1999 JV6

Jan 6

12.6 LD

410 m

1685 Toro

Jan 22

60.9 LD

1.7 km

2001 XR1

Jan 23

74.4 LD

1.5 km

2015 VC2

Jan 28

5.8 LD

15 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.

 Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere

Situation Report -- Oct. 30, 2015Stratospheric Radiation (+37o N)

Cosmic ray levels are elevated(+6.1% above the Space Age median). The trend is flat. Cosmic ray levels have increased +0% in the past month.

Sept. 06: 4.14 uSv/hr (414 uRad/hr)

Sept. 12: 4.09 uSv/hr (409 uRad/hr)

Sept. 23: 4.12 uSv/hr (412 uRad/hr)

Sept. 25: 4.16 uSv/hr (416 uRad/hr)

Sept. 27: 4.13 uSv/hr (413 uRad/hr)

Oct. 11: 4.02 uSv/hr (402 uRad/hr)

Oct. 22: 4.11 uSv/hr (411 uRad/hr)

These measurements are based on regular space weather balloon flights: learn more.

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. Our measurements show that someone flying back and forth across the continental USA, just once, can absorb as much ionizing radiation as 2 to 5 dental X-rays. Here is the data from our latest flight, Oct. 22nd:

Radiation levels peak at the entrance to the stratosphere in a broad region called the "Pfotzer Maximum." This peak is named after physicist George Pfotzer who discovered it using balloons and Geiger tubes in the 1930s. Radiation levels there are more than 80x sea level.

Note that the bottom of the Pfotzer Maximim is near 55,000 ft. This means that some high-flying aircraft are not far from the zone of maximum radiation. Indeed, according to the Oct 22th measurements, a plane flying at 45,000 feet is exposed to 2.79 uSv/hr. At that rate, a passenger would absorb about one dental X-ray's worth of radiation in about 5 hours.

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.

Current Conditions

Solar wind
speed: 630.0 km/sec
density: 3.0 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1318 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B8 
1116 UT Dec11 
24-hr: C1 0449 UT Dec11 
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1300 UTDaily Sun: 11 Dec 15None of these sunspots has the type of unstable magnetic field that poses a threat for strong flares. Solar activity remains low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 86 
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 11 Dec 2015

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
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 11 Dec 2015

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 109 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 11 Dec 2015

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: 6.2 nT
Bz: 2.4 nT south 

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1318 UTCoronal Holes: 11 Dec 15 
Earth is inside a stream of solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole. Credit: SDO/AIA.Noctilucent Clouds The southern season for noctilucent clouds is about to begin. Monitor the daily daisies, below, from NASA's AIM spacecraft for the first wisps of electric blue above Antarctica.

Switch view: Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula, East Antarctica, PolarUpdated at: 12-11-2015 05:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2015 Dec 10 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


10 %

10 %


01 %

01 %

Geomagnetic Storms:
Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth's magnetic field are given for three activity levels: activeminor stormsevere stormUpdated at: 2015 Dec 10 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


35 %

25 %


15 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

20 %


30 %

30 %


45 %

30 %