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Space Weather Update: 01/31/2017

By, 01/31/2017

SUNSET SKY SHOW: When the sun goes down tonight, step outside and look southwest.  The crescent Moon is joining bright Venus and red Mars to form a triangle in the sunset sky. Try to catch them before the sky fades to black.  A conjunction of bright planets framed by twilight blue is extra beautiful. Sky maps:Jan. 3031.

A HOLE IN THE SUN'S ATMOSPHERE: A large, canyon-shaped hole has opened in the sun's atmosphere, and it is spewing a stream of solar wind directly toward Earth. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory photographed the structure, which stretches more than halfway across the face of the sun:


This is a "coronal hole" (CH)--a region where the sun's magnetic field opens up and allows solar wind to escape. NASA's STEREO spacecraft recently sampled the stream flowing from this hole and the velocity was unusually high: nearly 750 km/s. Such a fast-moving stream will likely spark Arctic auroras when it arrives on Feb. 1st. Stay tuned! Free: Aurora alerts.

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

A VISIT FROM THE ANCESTORS: "Things are getting spooky around the Arctic Circle," reports Markus Varik. Last night, he photographed this apparition over Tromsø, Norway:



"According to the local indigenous Sami people, Northern Lights represent the souls of ancestors.  When teased, the spirits descend and pick up the teaser--never to be seen again," says Varik. "Working as a seasoned Northern Lights guide, I have done my fair share of teasing. This time, luckily, I was released after a short inspection."

In addition to teasing, another factor may have played a role in conjuring these auroras: Earth passed through a fold in the heliospheric current sheet.  Many people have never heard of the heliospheric current sheet, yet it is one of the biggest things in the solar system--a vast undulating system of electrical currents shaped like the skirt of a ballerina. Earth dips in and out of it all the time. These crossings are called "solar sector boundary crossings," and they have been known to spark bright Arctic lights.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

FAR-OUT VALENTINE'S GIFT: Nothing says "I love you" like a bear from space. To raise money for their cosmic ray research program, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have flown a payload-full of Valentine's bears to the edge of space. This was a special flight, timed to photograph the bears at sunset in the stratosphere, wrapped in the romantic light of the fading sun 98,000 feet above Earth's surface:


You can have one for $49.95. Each bear comes with a Valentine's card showing the bears in flight and telling the story of their trip to the stratosphere.

More far-out Valentine's gifts may be found in the Earth to Sky store. All proceeds support cosmic ray balloon flights and STEM education.

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. 31, 2017, the network reported 29 fireballs.
(29 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 31, 2017 there were 1770 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 YP4

Jan 26

12.6 LD

18 m

2017 BH30

Jan 30

0.1 LD

8 m

2017 BN30

Jan 31

10.2 LD

34 m

2017 BJ30

Jan 31

1 LD

21 m

2017 BY5

Jan 31

10.4 LD

30 m

2017 BT6

Jan 31

13.1 LD

47 m

2017 BB7

Jan 31

3 LD

12 m

2017 BB6

Feb 2

5.6 LD

16 m

2005 VL1

Feb 3

11.4 LD

18 m

2017 BG30

Feb 5

2.5 LD

6 m

2013 FK

Feb 5

7.1 LD

101 m

2017 BK30

Feb 5

8.6 LD

14 m

2017 BQ6

Feb 7

6.6 LD

230 m

2017 BM3

Feb 8

12.6 LD

108 m

2017 BP30

Feb 9

14.7 LD

27 m

2014 DV110

Feb 10

9.8 LD

45 m

2015 QR3

Feb 12

13.1 LD

31 m

2017 BW

Feb 17

4.6 LD

88 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

1.2 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: 736.3 km/sec
density: 9.4 protons/cm3

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1556 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B1
0923 UT Jan31
24-hr: B1 0206 UT Jan31
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1500 UTDaily Sun: 31 Jan 17None of these sunspots poses a threat for strong solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 35
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 31 Jan 2017

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2017 total: 10 days (33%)
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 31 Jan 2017

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 77 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 31 Jan 2017

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: 8.9 nT
Bz: -8.3 nT south

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1556 UTCoronal Holes: 31 Jan 17
Solar wind flowing from this large coronal hole could reach Earth as early as Feb. 1st. Credit: NASA/SDO.Noctilucent Clouds The southern season for noctilucent clouds began on Nov. 17, 2016. 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: 01-30-2017 03:55:03

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2017 Jan 30 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 30 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


45 %

45 %


25 %

25 %


05 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


05 %

10 %


25 %

25 %


70 %

60 %