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Space Weather Update: 01/09/2017

By, 01/09/2017

SOLAR WIND SURROUNDS EARTH: For the fifth day in a row, Earth is surrounded by a fast-moving stream of solar wind flowing from a large hole in the sun's atmosphere. NOAA forecasters say there is a 25% chance of G1-class geomagnetic storms on Jan. 9th as bright auroras flicker around the Arctic Circle. Free: Aurora Alerts

ARCTIC COLORS: When people think of "Arctic colors," they usually visualize green, the heavenly hue of Northern Lights. But that's only one dab on the palette of polar chromatography. While auroras paint the night sky, twilight rays of exquisite beauty rule the day. On Jan. 5th, photographer Sarah Skinner captured the latter in this photo she took from Abisko National Park located 250 km inside the Arctic Circle:


"It was approaching midday yesterday when I looked out of the window and noticed the most incredibly beautiful pink sky," says Skinner. "Linear clouds adorned the sky as the Moon was beginning to rise, looming over the frozen landscape."

In Abisko, the sun never rises at this time of year, but it does approach the horizon from below. Twilight colors spill over the landscape for hours at a time, creating scenes of enduring loveliness that cannot be found at lower latitudes.

"The striking pink hue stayed in the sky for quite some time, providing ample opportunity to capture some lovely images," adds Skinner. "Such colours and subtle lighting at this time of the year makes the Arctic region such a fabulous destination for photography." More of Sarah's images may be found on her web page, Andy and Sara Skinner Wildlife & Nature Photography.

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

LIGHT PILLARS OVER LATVIA: This morning in Riga, Latvia, photographer Ivo Dinsbergs stepped outside for a wakening breath of brisk winter air.  The predawn sky was not peppered with stars, but instead subdivided by vertical columns of light:


These are light pillars, caused by ice crystals in the air which intercept urban lights and spread them into colorful columns. The key ingredients of this phenomenon are ice and light pollution

"Each pillar was rising directly above an unshielded street light," says Dinsbergs. Intrigued, he decided to collect some crystals from the air and photograph them:


"Most of them were hexagonal plates," he notes. 

That's to be expected.  Flat six-sided ice crystals are perfectly shaped for making light pillars.  The crystals flutter down from low-hanging clouds with their wide flat faces nearly parallel to the ground, much like a leaf falling from a tree. In this way they form an array of mirrors, reflecting street lights up and down, pillar-style.

Light pillars are a common sight in northern towns during winter. Look for more in the realtime photo gallery:

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Airglow Photo Gallery

Realtime Sprite 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 Jan. 8, 2017, the network reported 22 fireballs.
(17 sporadics, 1 Quadrantid, 1 lambda Bootid, 1 xi Coronae Borealid, 1 beta Sextantid, 1 alpha Hydrid)



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 January 9, 2017 there were 1758 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2017 AZ3

Jan 7

1.3 LD

5 m

2016 YK

Jan 8

13.5 LD

80 m

2017 AS4

Jan 8

1.5 LD

21 m

2017 AG13

Jan 9

0.5 LD

25 m

2017 AT4

Jan 9

11 LD

20 m

2017 AM13

Jan 10

14.7 LD

43 m

2017 AJ13

Jan 14

6.7 LD

64 m

2016 YC8

Jan 18

9.5 LD

52 m

2015 BB

Jan 18

13.8 LD

45 m

2002 LS32

Jan 24

53.9 LD

1.0 km

1991 VK

Jan 25

25.2 LD

1.9 km

2000 WN107

Jan 26

62.3 LD

2.8 km

2017 AK3

Jan 26

11.3 LD

49 m

2016 YP4

Jan 26

12.7 LD

17 m

2005 VL1

Feb 4

9.1 LD

18 m

2013 FK

Feb 5

7.1 LD

94 m

2014 DV110

Feb 10

9.8 LD

45 m

2015 QR3

Feb 12

13.1 LD

31 m

2013 WT67

Feb 17

44.2 LD

1.1 km

1992 FE

Feb 24

13.1 LD

275 m

1998 QK56

Feb 24

53 LD

1.3 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.

 Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere


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.


Current Conditions

Solar wind
speed: 658.9 km/sec
density: 2.8 protons/cm3

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1510 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A8
1213 UT Jan09
24-hr: A8 1213 UT Jan09
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1500 UTDaily Sun: 09 Jan 17The sun is blank--no sunspots. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 0
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 09 Jan 2017

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 5 days
2017 total: 7 days (88%)
2016 total: 32 days (9%) 
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 09 Jan 2017

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 72 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 09 Jan 2017

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: 5.3 nT
Bz: -1.5 nT south

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1509 UTCoronal Holes: 09 Jan 17
Solar wind flowing from this minor coronal hole should reach Earth on or about Jan.12th. Credit: NASA/SDO.Noctilucent Clouds The southern season for noctilucent clouds began on Nov. 17th. Come back to this spot every day to see the "daily daisy" from NASA's AIM spacecraft, which is monitoring the dance of electric-blue around the Antarctic Circle.


Switch view: Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula, East Antarctica, PolarUpdated at: 01-08-2017 16:55:03

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2017 Jan 08 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: 2017 Jan 08 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


20 %

10 %


05 %

01 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


30 %

15 %


25 %

15 %