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Space Weather Update: 01/14/2017

By, 01/14/2017

CHANCE OF STORMS, UPDATED: NOAA forecasters have lowered the odds of polar geomagnetic storms on Jan.13th to 25% as they wait for the late arrival of a solar wind stream. The stream was originally due to hit Earth's magnetic field on Jan. 12th. Even a day late, it could still light up the Arctic Circle. The stream is preceded by a CIR (co-rotating interaction region)--a transition zone between fast- and slow-moving solar wind. Plasma piles up in CIRs, producing density gradients and shocks that often do a good job sparking auroras. Free: Aurora Alerts

SURPRISE, IT'S A SUNSPOT: Breaking a string of 8 consecutive spotless days, a new sunspot (AR2625) has emerged over the sun's eastern limb. It announced itself on Jan.12th with a C4-class solar flare. The explosion hurled a plume of plasma into space, photographed by extreme ultraviolet cameras onboard NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory:


Earth will not feel any effects from this relatively minor flare. Material billowing away from the blast site is moving too far off the sun-Earth line to intersect our planet. 

During years of Solar Maximum, a C-class flare issuing from a small sunspot like AR2526 would have been beneath the notice of busy space weather forecasters tracking more potent explosions. Now, however, sunspot numbers have dropped so low that even a small sunspot attracts attention. Sunspots and solar flares will recede in importance in the years ahead as Solar Minimum takes hold. Other forms of space weather will be making the news, instead. Stay tuned!

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

URSUS STRATOSPHERUS: Valentine's Day is coming. To prepare, you might need a space bear. Or two:


To fund their cosmic ray research, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have flown 20 pairs of brown bears to the edge of space. You can have a pair for only $69.95--including the rose, which has been pressed for safekeeping. Each adorable duo comes with Valentine's card showing the bears in flight and certifying their trip to the stratosphere.

More out of this world gifts may be found in the Earth to Sky store.  All proceeds support cosmic ray balloon launches and STEM education.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

SKI HALOS: Ski resorts are one of the best places to see sun halos--rings of light that surround the sun when ice crystals fill the air. On Jan. 9th, Stefanie Nopper was riding the cable car to Switzerland's Melchsee-Frutt ski resort when she witnessed this specimen:


"First I saw a tiny rainbow and suddenly I realized, there is more than one... NO, it was an entire HALO!" she says.  "I snapped this picture through the window using my iPhone."

Most sun halos are caused by ice crystals floating high above Earth's surface in cirrus clouds. "Ski halos," on the other hand, are formed by ice crystals near the ground, kicked into the air by the action of skis and snow-making machines.

Crystals emerging from snow-making machines can be particularly influential. A variety called "diamond dust" grows slowly downwind of ski-slope snow blowers. These man-made crystals tend to be more optically perfect than natural crystals in clouds, producing extra-bright, extra-sharp halos.

Going skiing? Be alert for halos. More examples may be found 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. 13, 2017, the network reported 9 fireballs.
(9 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 January 14, 2017 there were 1759 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2017 AS4

Jan 8

1.5 LD

21 m

2017 AG13

Jan 9

0.5 LD

27 m

2017 AT4

Jan 9

11 LD

20 m

2017 AM13

Jan 10

14.8 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

2012 DR32

Mar 2

2.7 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


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: 362.5 km/sec
density: 6.9 protons/cm3

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1516 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A9
1019 UT Jan14
24-hr: B2 0716 UT Jan14
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1500 UTDaily Sun: 13 Jan 17A new sunspot (AR2625) has emerged over the sun's eastern limb, breaking a string of 8 consecutive spotless days. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 24
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 13 Jan 2017

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2017 total: 10 days (91%)
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 12 Jan 2017

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 76 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 13 Jan 2017

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 1 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 2
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 1.6 nT
Bz: -0.3 nT south

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1514 UTCoronal Holes: 13 Jan 17
A broad coronal hole is emerging over the sun's eastern limb. 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: 01-13-2017 16:55:05

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2017 Jan 13 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 13 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


05 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


20 %

20 %


25 %

25 %


20 %

20 %