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Space Weather Update: 02/16/2017

By, 02/16/2017

WAITING FOR THE SOLAR WIND: A solar wind stream that could have arrived as early as Feb. 15th appears set to reach Earth on Feb. 16th instead. The slightly tardy stream is flowing from a canyon-shaped hole in the sun's atmosphere.  NOAA forecasters say there is a 45% chance of polar geomagnetic storms when the solar wind eventually hits Earth's magnetic field. Free: Aurora alerts.

DAYTIME AURORAS? NO. POLAR STRATOSPHERIC CLOUDS: On Feb. 13th, something amazing happened in the stratosphere over the Arctic Circle. Normally, the air 60,000+ feet above Earth's surface is dry and utterly transparent.  On the eve of Valentine's Day, however, the Arctic stratosphere filled with a gossamer haze of crystalline ice, and when sunlight hit the freezing crystals, the sky filled with clouds of intense iridescent color.

"Our guests referred to the clouds as 'daytime auroras,'" reports Chad Blakley, who operates the Lights over Lapland tour guide service in Abisko, Sweden. One of them, Champ Cameron (@champcameron on Instagram), snapped this picture of the display:


"Champ was participating in our Sami And Reindeer Experience outside of Abisko yesterday afternoon," explains Blakley. "The roads were very icy due to a freak rain storm and warm weather (+9 degrees C) so we nearly canceled the trip. But we heard that there were incredible clouds in the sky so we chose to brave the weather and push on."

Good thing. They witnessed an exceptional display of polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs). PSCs are a sign of very cold temperatures in the stratosphere. For ice crystals to form in the normally arid stratosphere, temperatures must drop to around -85º C. So while it was strangely warm on the ground below, it was incredibly cold up above.  

Longtime observers say PSCs are becoming more common and more intense. "I've been living here all my life (33 years)," says Mia Stålnacke of Kiruna, Sweden, who also photographed the colorful outbreak. "I definitely feel that these clouds are appearing more often then they used to. I remember seeing them a few times/year since I was a kid, but these last couple of years we've had them much more often--sometimes for almost a week straight. Others seem to feel the same way; I see local groups on Facebook flooded with photos of PSCs and comments on how often they're appearing now." 

"Our bus driver, a longtime resident of the area, described it as the best PSC display he had ever seen," relays Blakley. "We were overwhelmed by the natural beauty." The clouds were so intense, they remained visible even after the sun set:


"We saw these clouds all day long, and they continued into the night," says photographer Lars Lehnert of Abisko, Sweden. " I've never seen anything quite like it."

Once thought to be mere curiosities, some PSCs are now known to be associated with the destruction of ozone. Indeed, an ozone hole formed over the UK in Feb. 2016 following an outbreak of ozone-destroying Type 1 PSCs.

To investigate these clouds further, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus will travel to Abisko Sweden for a week in March 2017.  We plan to launch a series of space weather balloons into the Arctic stratosphere, measuring temperature, air pressure, and ambient radiation.  If PSCs are present, our sensors will pass directly through them, and our cameras can photograph the colorful clouds at point blank range. Stay tuned!

Realtime PSC Photo Gallery

EARTH ECLIPSES THE SUN: On Valentine's Day, Feb. 14th, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory witnessed an eclipse of the sun -- by our very own planet. Earth passed directly between the spacecraft and the solar disk, producing a near-total blackout:


This event marks the beginning of eclipse season for SDO. Twice a year, in the weeks leading up to the equinoxes, Earth can pass directly between the sun and SDO. This is the "spring season." Between now and mid-March, these eclipses will repeat once a day around 07:30 UT.

At the beginning of the season, eclipses are short, only a few minutes long. Their duration increases to 72 minutes, mid-season, before tapering off to minutes again as the season winds down. Because most eclipses are relatively short, there is still plenty of uninterrupted time for SDO to monitor activity on the sun. Researchers estimate a scant 2% data loss averaged over the weeks ahead.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Aurora 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. 16, 2017, the network reported 16 fireballs.
(15 sporadics, 1 alpha Antilid)



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 16, 2017 there were 1773 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:



Miss Distance


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

51 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

2015 TC25

Mar 26

7.6 LD

6 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: 362.4 km/sec
density: 25.6 protons/cm3
more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1602 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A7 1313 UT Feb16
24-hr: A7 1313 UT Feb16
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1600 UT


Daily Sun: 16 Feb 17


Neither of these sunspots poses a threat for strong solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI


Sunspot number: 23
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 16 Feb 2017

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2017 total: 11 days (22%)
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 16 Feb 2017

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 75 sfu
explanation | more data
Updated 16 Feb 2017


Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: EuropeUSANew ZealandAntarctica
Credit: NOAA/Ovation


Planetary K-index
Now: Kp= 3 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 3 quiet
explanation | more data

Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 2.6 nT
Bz: 0.6 nT south
more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1600 UT


Coronal Holes: 16 Feb 17

An unusually long and sinuous coronal hole is cutting across the southern hemisphere of the sun. 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: 02-15-2017 16:55:02


NOAA Forecasts


Updated at: 2017 Feb 15 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 15 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


25 %

30 %


10 %

10 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


30 %

30 %


35 %

45 %