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Space Weather Update: 03/12/2017

By, 03/12/2017

THE WORM MOON: There's a full Moon tonight, and according to folklore it has a special name: the Worm Moon.  It signals the coming of northern spring, a thawing of the soil, and the first stirrings of earthworms in long-dormant gardens. Step outside tonight and behold the wakening landscape. "Worm moonlight" is prettier than it sounds. [photo gallery]

AURORAS VS. THE FULL MOON: For the next few nights, sky watchers around the Arctic Circle may have trouble seeing the aurora borealis. Only a bright outburst of lights could compete with the full Moon. On March 11th in Saariselka, Finland, such an outburst did occur:


"A brief but intense display of auroras was well visible despite the moonlight," reports photographer Juan Carlos Casado. "We also witnessed a beautiful Moon halo."

While the auroras were caused by the gentle buffeting of solar wind thousands of kilometers above Earth's surface, the Moon halo is a sign of something much closer to the ground: ice crystals.  Plate-shaped crystals floating in clouds 5 to 10 km overhead catch rays of moonlight and bend them into a 22o ring, as shown above.

The forecast this weekend calls for lots of Moon halos, but not so many auroras. NOAA forecasters say the chance of geomagnetic storm on March 12th is only 5%, so outbursts like Casado observed are unlikely. Meanwhile, the chance of a full Moon is 100%.

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

NEUTRONS ON A PLANE: Want to experience space weather? It's easy. Just step on board an airplane. Cosmic rays from deep space penetrate Earth's atmosphere where air travelers absorb them during long trips. On March 9th, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus flew to Sweden for an Arctic space weather balloon launch.  During the flight from Los Angeles to Stockholm, they used a bubble chamber to search for neutrons--and they found them. In this photo, each bubble (three are circled for illustration) shows where a neutron passed through the chamber and vaporized a superheated droplet:


Among researchers it is well known that neutrons are an important form of cosmic rays, providing much of the biologically effective radiation dose at altitudes of interest to aviation and space tourism. Low-energy neutrons also cause single-event upsets in aircraft avionics.

By counting the bubbles in the chamber, it is possible to estimate the total dose of neutron radiation during our flight. The answer is 18 uSv--even more than the dose of X-rays and gamma-rays, which the students also measured. Lesson: When measuring aviation radiation, don't forget the neutrons! Stay tuned for more results from our ongoing research trip to the Arctic Circle.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

NORTHERN LIGHTS SPACE PENDANT: To raise money for their trip to the Arctic Circle, on March 2nd the students of Earth to Sky Calculus flew a payload-full of Northern Lights pendants to the edge of space above California. You can have one for $69.95. Each piece of jewelry comes with a greeting card telling the story of the pendant's trip to the stratosphere and certifying its peak altitude: 112,200 feet above Earth's surface.


Bonus: Would you like your pendant to fly above the Arctic Circle as well? Make a note in the COMMENTS box at checkout and we will take your pendant to Sweden for a second trip to the stratosphere.

More far-out gifts may be found in the Earth to Sky Store. All proceeds support STEM education and high-altitude ballooning.

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Comet 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 Mar. 12, 2017, the network reported 2 fireballs.
(2 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 March 12, 2017 there were 1777 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:



Miss Distance


2017 DA36

Mar 10

4 LD

41 m

2017 EE3

Mar 11

7.8 LD

28 m

2017 EM

Mar 12

13.9 LD

29 m

2017 EK

Mar 13

5 LD

67 m

2017 EU2

Mar 14

12.4 LD

35 m

2017 EK3

Mar 14

10.3 LD

24 m

1998 SL36

Mar 16

8.3 LD

390 m

2017 EG3

Mar 17

4.4 LD

23 m

2015 TC25

Mar 26

7.6 LD

6 m

2017 EB3

Apr 4

13.8 LD

43 m

2017 DC38

Apr 5

14.5 LD

57 m

2003 BD44

Apr 18

21.7 LD

1.9 km

2014 JO25

Apr 19

4.6 LD

1.0 km

1999 CU3

Apr 19

63.7 LD

1.9 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: 407.3 km/sec
density: 4.2 protons/cm3
more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1508 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A5 1330 UT Mar12
24-hr: A5 0617 UT Mar12
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1500 UT


Daily Sun: 11 Mar 17

The sun is blank--no sunspots. Credit: SDO/HMI


Sunspot number: 0
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 11 Mar 2017

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 5 days
2017 total: 16 days (23%)
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 11 Mar 2017

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 71 sfu
explanation | more data
Updated 11 Mar 2017


Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: EuropeUSANew ZealandAntarctica
Credit: NOAA/Ovation


Planetary K-index
Now: Kp= 1 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 4 unsettled
explanation | more data

Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 3.8 nT
Bz: -0.7 nT south
more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1508 UT


Coronal Holes: 11 Mar 17

There are no large coronal holes on the Earthside 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: 02-24-2017 17:55:02


NOAA Forecasts


Updated at: 2017 Mar 11 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 Mar 11 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


05 %

05 %


01 %

01 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


15 %

15 %


05 %

05 %