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Space Weather Update: 03/14/2017

By, 03/14/2017

HAPPY PI DAY: March 14th (3.14) is  day, and all around the world pi-philes are celebrating one of the most compelling and mysterious constants of Nature. Pi appears in equations describing the orbits of planets, the colors of auroras, the structure of DNA. The value of  is woven into the fabric of life, the universe and ... everything.

Humans have struggled to calculate  for thousands of years. Divide the circumference of a circle by its diameter; the ratio is . Sounds simple, but the devil is in the digits. While the value of  is finite (a smidgen more than 3), the decimal number is infinitely long:


Supercomputers have succeeded in calculating more than 2700 billion digits and they're still crunching. The weirdest way to compute : throw toothpicks at a table or frozen hot dogs on the floor. Party time.

NORTHERN LIGHTS BALLOON LAUNCH: This week, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus are in Abisko, Sweden, releasing a series of space weather balloons into the stratosphere. On March 13th, the team conducted a midnight launch from the frozen surface of Lake Tornetrask:



The balloon carried two low-light cameras into the stratosphere for photography of the Northern Lights.  A flamboyant outburst of pink auroras thrilled the students as they snowmobiled to the launch site, and a subtle display of green was underway as the balloon was launched.  We will find out if our experimental cameras captured any of this after the payload is recovered from the Arctic backcountry tomorrow.

Alongside the auroracams, x-ray and gamma-ray sensors traveled to the stratosphere as well.  We are investigating how cosmic rays penetrate the Arctic atmosphere. Our first launch two days ago revealed that the radiation profile of the atmosphere inside the Arctic Circle is interestingly different from profiles we have obtained for years at lower latitudes.  Stay tuned for updates!

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

THE TRANSFORMATION OF VENUS, CONTINUED: On March 25th, Venus will pass almost directly between Earth and the sun--an event astronomers call "inferior solar conjunction." As Venus approaches the sun, the planet is turning its night side toward Earth, reducing its luminous glow to a thin sliver. Astrophotographer Raffaello Lena of Rome, Italy, has been monitoring the transformation:


"I've just added an image from March 10th to this composite," says Lena.  "It clearly shows the transformation of Venus to a skinny crescent."

You don't need such a large telescope to see the shape of Venus.  Even ordinary binoculars will show the crescent.  Amateur astronomers are encouraged to monitor Venus in the lead-up to inferior conjunction.  In the nights ahead, the crescent of Venus will become increasingly thin and circular. The horns of the crescent might actually touch when the Venus-sun angle is least on March 25th.

Inferior conjunction is arguably the most beautiful time to observe Venus--but also the most perilous. The glare of the nearby sun magnified by a telescope can damage the eyes of anyone looking through the eyepiece. Anthony J. Cook of the Griffith Observatory has some advice for observers:

"I have observed Venus at conjunction, but only from within the shadow of a building, or by adding a mask to the front end of the telescope to fully shadow the optics from direct sunlight. This is tricky with a refractor or a catadioptric, because the optics start at the front end of the tube. Here at Griffith Observatory, I rotate the telescope dome to make sure the lens of the telescope is shaded from direct sunlight, even through it means that the lens will be partially blocked when aimed at Venus. With our Newtonian telescope, I add a curved cardboard mask at the front end of the tube to shadow the primary mirror."

For the rest of this week Venus can still be observed without elaborate precautions in deep twilight after sunset. Every evening the crescent grows and narrows. Monitor the realtime photo gallery for updates:

Realtime Venus 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. 14, 2017, the network reported 10 fireballs.
(10 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 14, 2017 there were 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

29 m

2017 EM

Mar 12

13.9 LD

29 m

2017 EK

Mar 13

5 LD

66 m

2017 EU2

Mar 14

12.4 LD

35 m

2017 EK3

Mar 14

10.3 LD

24 m

2017 EE4

Mar 16

7 LD

47 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: 319.5 km/sec
density: 5.9 protons/cm3
more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1533 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A4 1454 UT Mar14
24-hr: A5 0623 UT Mar14
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1500 UT


Daily Sun: 14 Mar 17

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


Sunspot number: 0
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 14 Mar 2017

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 8 days
2017 total: 19 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 14 Mar 2017

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 70 sfu
explanation | more data
Updated 14 Mar 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: 3.2 nT
Bz: -1.7 nT south
more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1532 UT


Coronal Holes: 14 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 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 storm

Updated at: 2017 Mar 13 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


10 %

10 %


01 %

01 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


20 %

15 %


15 %

10 %