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Space Weather Update: 02/08/2017

By, 02/08/2017

WAITING FOR THE SOLAR WIND: A narrow stream of solar wind that was supposed to hit Earth's magnetic field yesterday, did not. The tardy stream is still en route and may arrive later today, bringing with it a 25% chance of polar geomagnetic storms. Arctic sky watchers should be alert for auroras after nightfall. Free: Aurora alerts.

DID COMET 45P LOSE ITS TAIL? At the end of December 2016, Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova plunged toward the sun with a long tail streaming behind it. Now the comet is headiing for Earth for a close encounter on Feb. 11th. Apparently, however, it left something behind. "Comet 45P has lost its tail," reports Bill Williams of the Chiefland Astronomy Village in Florida, who photographed the approaching comet last night:


"The comet still sports a gorgeous green atmosphere ('coma') and is now exiting the dense Ophiuchus Milky Way starfield," says Williams. "The comet sure is moving fast!"

WIlliams isn't the only observer to notice the missing tail. Moreover, the comet is at least 3 times dimmer than forecasters expected. "It is rather faint and diffuse," notes Dr. Brian Ottum of Dark Sky New Mexico, who photographed the green fuzzball on Feb. 7th. "45P seems unlikely to reach naked eye visibility."

What happened? On Dec. 31, 2016, the comet slingshot around the sun inside the orbit of Venus. Solar heating might have vaporized so much material from the comet's icy core that there is insufficient left for a flamboyant tail. For the same reason, the comet may be dimmer than expected. Amateur astronomers with small telescopes can monitor the situation. The best time to look is during the dark hours before sunrise between Feb 9th and 12th. The comet will be racing through the constellation Hercules high in the eastern sky. Sky maps: Feb. 9101112.

Got a great picture? First, submit it to Next, send it to the Planetary Science Institute, which is collecting amateur images to help professional researchers study Comet 45P.  More resources: 3D OrbitEphemeris.

Realtime Comet Photo Gallery

FAR-OUT VALENTINE'S GIFT: Did you know that cosmic radiation in Earth's atmosphere is increasing?  It's true. These and other findings of the Earth to Sky Calculus ballooning program are funded not by government grants or corporate donations. Instead, the students rely on crowdfunding.  Or rather, bear-funding:


To raise funds for their ongoing research, on Jan. 31st the students flew a payload-full of these ursine astronauts to the edge of space. You can have one for $79.95. A space rose is included, too, pressed for safekeeping. Each bear+rose gift package comes with a Valentine's card showing the bears in flight and telling the story of their trip to the stratosphere.

More out of this world gifts may be found in the Earth to Sky store

DOUBLE RAINBOW: Whenever you see one rainbow, look for another, because rainbows always come in pairs. Witness this Feb. 6th photo from Leo Caldas of Brasília, Brasil: 


"It was so beautiful," says Caldas. "Shortly after a rainstorm, this double rainbow arced high over a Digital TV tower in Brasília."

The bright inner rainbow is the primary bow, caused by sunbeams reflecting once inside falling raindrops. It's the bow you usually see. The less-bright outer rainbow is the secondary bow, caused by sunbeams reflecting twice inside raindrops. Secondary bows often go unnoticed, because they are usually very faint, but they are always there.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery


Realtime Aurora 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 Feb. 8, 2017, the network reported 16 fireballs.
(16 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 February 8, 2017 there were 1773 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:



Miss Distance


2017 BQ6

Feb 7

6.6 LD

225 m

2017 BM93

Feb 8

3.4 LD

21 m

2017 BM3

Feb 8

12.5 LD

108 m

2017 BP30

Feb 9

14.7 LD

25 m

2014 DV110

Feb 10

9.8 LD

45 m

2015 QR3

Feb 12

13.1 LD

31 m

2017 BK32

Feb 12

10.6 LD

26 m

2017 BW

Feb 17

4.6 LD

88 m

2013 WT67

Feb 17

44.2 LD

1.1 km

2017 BY93

Feb 23

2.4 LD

102 m

1992 FE

Feb 24

13.1 LD

275 m

2017 CP1

Feb 24

3.6 LD

52 m

1998 QK56

Feb 24

53 LD

1.2 km

2017 BM123

Feb 27

12.5 LD

81 m

2012 DR32

Mar 2

2.7 LD

52 m

1998 SL36

Mar 16

8.3 LD

390 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: 461.1 km/sec
density: 7.6 protons/cm3
more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1636 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A7 1304 UT Feb08
24-hr: A8 0854 UT Feb08
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1600 UT


Daily Sun: 08 Feb 17


Lone sunspot AR2634 is quiet and poses no threat for strong flares. Credit: SDO/HMI


Sunspot number: 11
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 08 Feb 2017

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2017 total: 10 days (26%)
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 08 Feb 2017

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 72 sfu
explanation | more data
Updated 08 Feb 2017


Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: EuropeUSANew ZealandAntarctica
Credit: NOAA/Ovation


Planetary K-index
Now: Kp= 2 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 2 quiet
explanation | more data

Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.1 nT
Bz: 4.1 nT north
more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1636 UT


Coronal Holes: 08 Feb 17

A stream of solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole could reach Earth on Feb. 8th 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 ShelfAntarctic PeninsulaEast AntarcticaPolar

Updated at: 02-07-2017 16:55:02


NOAA Forecasts


Updated at: 2017 Feb 07 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 storm

Updated at: 2017 Feb 07 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


05 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


20 %

20 %


25 %

20 %