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Space Weather Update: 03/01/2016

By, 03/01/2016

ASTEROID TO MISS EARTH: Last month, NASA reported that near-Earth asteroid2013 TX68 might come very close to Earth on March 5th--as little as 11,000 miles away. Since then, researchers have collected more data and refined their calculations of the asteroid's orbit. Now it appears that the 30-meter space rock won't reach Earth until March 8th, and when it does, it will miss our planet by a wide margin of 3 million miles. There is no danger of a collision: full story.

(UPDATED!) SPHERICAL CAMERA AT THE EDGE OF SPACE: On Feb. 27th, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus launched a helium balloon to the stratosphere to monitor increasing levels of cosmic rays. In addition to radiation sensors, the payload carried something special: a spherical camera. Click and drag on the image below to explore California's Sierra Nevada from an altitude of 115,300 feet--and don't forget to look up at the balloon!

The camera, a Ricoh Theta S, will probably become a regular part of our cosmic ray payload. Imagery should improve in future flights as the students learn to lower the profile of the camera's thermal pack--the strange-looking black object in the center of the 3D image. During its flight to the stratosphere, the camera experienced temperatures as low as -65 C. The thermal pack helps keep the camera's batteries warm in these harsh conditions.

more spherical images: the students preparing to launch the balloon, the balloonascending through clouds, the balloon exploding in the stratosphere.

Next week, the camera will take another trip--to Indonesia. The students will be using it to record a total eclipse of the sun on March 9th. Stay tuned for that!

Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery

MAGNETIC CANYON ON THE SUN: Magnetic fields in the sun's atmosphere have split apart, forming a 'magnetic canyon' more than 500,000 miles long. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory is monitoring the structure, shown here in an extreme ultraviolet image taken on Feb. 28th:


The canyon is the dark linear feature vertically bisecting the solar disk. White arrows indicate solar wind spewing out into space. Such an opening is also called a "coronal hole." A stream of solar wind flowing from this coronal hole is expected to reach Earth on or about March 1st. NOAA forecasters say there is a 40% chance of polar geomagnetic storms when the stream arrives. Aurora alerts: text or voice

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

GEOSTATIONARY SATELLITES: Take a camera, point it at the night sky, and open the shutter for a few hours. The result will be star trails--beautiful arcs of light formed by the rotation of Earth, twirling the stars in concentric circles around the North celestial pole. Jamie Shepherd of Lochearnhead, Scotland, did this experiment on Feb. 27th, but found that not all the stars moved. Some were motionless. In fact, they were not stars, but rather geostationary satellites:


Geostationary satellites orbit Earth at an altitude of ~22,300 miles directly over the equator. They circle Earth once every 24 hours--the same amount of time it takes Earth to turn on its axis. This means geostationary satellites appear to be motionless in the sky above any given observer; hence, no star trails.

This is a great time of year to observe geostationary satellites. During the weeks around equinoxes, sunlight glints diectly from flat surfaces on the satellites' boxy bodies, making them extra bright.

So....Take a camera, point it at the night sky, and open the shutter for a few hours. The things that don't move might be as interesting as the things that do.

Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery

Realtime Comet 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 Mar. 1, 2016, the network reported 23 fireballs.
(23 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 March 1, 2016 there were 1683 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 DB1

Feb 26

5.8 LD

21 m

2016 DL1

Mar 1

4.7 LD

18 m

2011 EH17

Mar 1

11.1 LD

52 m

2016 DV1

Mar 3

1 LD

46 m

2016 DW1

Mar 3

14.2 LD

28 m

2016 DM1

Mar 3

5.9 LD

27 m

2016 DU1

Mar 3

13 LD

25 m

2013 TX68

Mar 8

13 LD

38 m

2001 PL9

Mar 9

77.6 LD

1.2 km

2010 FX9

Mar 19

6.9 LD

62 m


Mar 21

13.9 LD

0 m


Mar 22

9.2 LD

545 m

1993 VA

Mar 23

59.6 LD

1.6 km

2016 CY135

Mar 23

13.9 LD

60 m

2001 XD

Mar 28

64.5 LD

1.0 km

2016 BC14

Mar 29

9.8 LD

270 m

2002 AJ29

Apr 6

55.2 LD

1.5 km

2002 EB3

Apr 8

55.6 LD

1.2 km

2009 KJ

Apr 10

37.7 LD

1.6 km

2005 GR33

Apr 13

7.8 LD

175 m

2008 HU4

Apr 16

4.9 LD

10 m

2001 VG5

Apr 28

52.4 LD

1.8 km

2014 US115

May 1

9.4 LD

52 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. For example, here is the data from a flight on Oct. 22, 2015:

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: 386.3 km/sec
density: 6.4 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1706 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B2 
1617 UT Mar01 
24-hr: B6 0052 UT Mar01 
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1700 UTDaily Sun: 01 Mar 16The magnetic field of sunspot AR2506 is decaying, and it no longer poses a threat for strong solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 44 
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 01 Mar 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 0 days (0%) 
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 01 Mar 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 91 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 01 Mar 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: 10.5 nT
Bz: 2.2 nT north 

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1707 UTCoronal Holes: 01 Mar 16 
A stream of solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole should reach Earth on March 1-2. Credit: SDO/AIA.Noctilucent Clouds The southern season for noctilucent clouds began on Dec. 13, 2015. It is expected to end in late February 2016.

Switch view: Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula, East Antarctica, PolarUpdated at: 02-12-2016 16:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Feb 29 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


05 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

Geomagnetic Storms:
Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth's magnetic field are given for three activity levels: activeminor stormsevere stormUpdated at: 2016 Feb 29 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


30 %

20 %


10 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

20 %


35 %

30 %


40 %

25 %