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Space Weather Update: 03/31/2016

By, 03/31/2016

CHANCE OF STORMS: NOAA forecasters estimate a 45% chance of polar geomagnetic storms late on April 1st when a CIR is expected to hit Earth's magnetic field. CIRs (co-rotating interaction regions) are transition zones between fast- and slow-moving solar wind streams. Density gradients and shock waves inside CIRs do a good job sparking auroras. Aurora alerts: text or voice

THE GIANT GREEN ATMOSPHERE OF A COMET: Earlier this month, on March 21st, Comet 252P/LINEAR buzzed Earth only 5.4 million km away. It was the 3rd-closest approach by any comet in recorded history. Since then, amateur astronomer Michael Jäger has been tracking the comet, taking ever-improving pictures as 252P races into northern skies over his private observatory in Stixendorf, Austria. His latest image, obtained on March 31st, reveals the comet's magnificent green atmosphere:


The green cloud in Jäger's photo comes from jets of gas spewing out of the comet's core. While the comet's icy core is tiny, perhaps only a few km wide, the surrounding atmosphere is enormous. The gas cloud measures 90,000 km across. This means it is more than half the size of the planet Jupiter, and about twice as wide as Neptune. Comet 252P/LINEAR is a gas giant, indeed.

The comet is green because its vaporizing nucleus emits diatomic carbon, C2, a gas which glows green in the near-vacuum of space. Astronomers who wish to see the verdant hue for themselves can point their telescopes using this ephemeris. Mid-sized telescopes and CCD cameras are required for best results.

Realtime Comet Photo Gallery
[Resources: brightness measurements3D orbitorbital elements]

QUIET SUNSPOT: Sunspot AR2526 is big enough to swallow our entire planet--twice--and today it is crossing the center of the solar disk, directly facing Earth. Amateur astronomer J. P. Brahic took advantage of the crossing to photograph the behemoth from his backyard observatory in Uzès, France:


Surrounded by a maelstrom of swirling red-hot plasma, the sunspot's dark core looks menacing indeed. But looks can be deceiving. In fact, sunspot AR2526 is one of the least threatening sunspots to come along this year. AR2526 has a stable magnetic field that resists exploding. As a result, NOAA forecasters say there is no more than a 1% chance of a strong solar flare for the next three days.

Observers are nevertheless encouraged to turn their solar telescopes toward the sun. What AR2526 lacks in explosiveness, it makes up for in beauty. A photo-op awaits.

Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery

SCIENCE FAIR AT THE EDGE OF SPACE: Around the USA, science fairs are underway in all 50 states. Middle-school student Sydney R. of Turlock, California, decided to do her experiment at the edge of space. On March 23rd, she flew packets of baker's yeast to the stratosphere onboard an Earth to Sky Calculushelium balloon. The fungi reached an altitude of 116,181 feet:


At the apex of the flight, the yeast absorbed doses of cosmic radiation more than 100x Earth-normal. Meanwhile, back on Earth, control samples remained in their usual place in the kitchen cupboard. The two samples, flown vs. control, form the basis of Sydney's experiment.

She plans to do some "space baking." Sydney has a recipe for brownies that calls for yeast, and she is going to prepare the dessert using both kinds of leavening. Does space yeast make the same delicious brownies as terrestrial yeast? Hungry astronauts would love to know.

HEY, THANKS: and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus fly balloons to the stratosphere approximately once a week to monitor increasing levels of cosmic rays. Sydney's dad, David, sponsored one of those flights so that Sydney's science fair project could ride along. We thank them for their support!

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

Realtime Comet Photo Gallery

Solar Eclipse 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. 31, 2016, the network reported 6 fireballs.
(6 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 31, 2016 there were potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2001 XD

Mar 28

64.5 LD

1.0 km

2016 EK156

Mar 29

14 LD

49 m

2016 BC14

Mar 29

9.8 LD

270 m

2016 FX7

Apr 3

10.1 LD

19 m

2002 AJ29

Apr 6

55.2 LD

1.5 km

2002 EB3

Apr 8

55.6 LD

1.2 km

2009 KJ

Apr 10

37.7 LD

1.6 km

2005 GR33

Apr 13

7.7 LD

175 m

2008 HU4

Apr 16

4.9 LD

10 m

2016 FY3

Apr 25

6.4 LD

295 m

2001 VG5

Apr 28

52.4 LD

1.8 km

2014 US115

May 1

9.4 LD

52 m

2008 TZ3

May 5

13.1 LD

355 m

2014 JG55

May 8

7.6 LD

7 m

2009 DL46

May 24

6.2 LD

205 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

Situation Report -- Oct. 30, 2015Stratospheric Radiation (+37o N)

Cosmic ray levels are elevated(+6.1% above the Space Age median). The trend is flat. Cosmic ray levels have increased +0% in the past month.

Sept. 06: 4.14 uSv/hr (414 uRad/hr)

Sept. 12: 4.09 uSv/hr (409 uRad/hr)

Sept. 23: 4.12 uSv/hr (412 uRad/hr)

Sept. 25: 4.16 uSv/hr (416 uRad/hr)

Sept. 27: 4.13 uSv/hr (413 uRad/hr)

Oct. 11: 4.02 uSv/hr (402 uRad/hr)

Oct. 22: 4.11 uSv/hr (411 uRad/hr)

These measurements are based on regular space weather balloon flights: learn more.

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. Our measurements show that someone flying back and forth across the continental USA, just once, can absorb as much ionizing radiation as 2 to 5 dental X-rays. For example, here is the data from a flight on Oct. 22, 2015:


Radiation levels peak at the entrance to the stratosphere in a broad region called the "Pfotzer Maximum." This peak is named after physicist George Pfotzer who discovered it using balloons and Geiger tubes in the 1930s. Radiation levels there are more than 80x sea level.

Note that the bottom of the Pfotzer Maximim is near 55,000 ft. This means that some high-flying aircraft are not far from the zone of maximum radiation. Indeed, according to the Oct 22th measurements, a plane flying at 45,000 feet is exposed to 2.79 uSv/hr. At that rate, a passenger would absorb about one dental X-ray's worth of radiation in about 5 hours.

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.


Current Conditions

Solar wind
speed: 427.5 km/sec
density: 3.2 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1728 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A8
1243 UT Mar31
24-hr: B1 0115 UT Mar31
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1700 UTDaily Sun: 31 Mar 16Earth-facing sunspot AR2526 has a stable magnetic field that poses no threat for strong solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 12
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 31 Mar 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 0 days (0%) 
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 Mar 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 84 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 31 Mar 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 1 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 3
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 2.9 nT
Bz: 0.3 nT north

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1728 UTCoronal Holes: 31 Mar 16
There are no large coronal holes on the Earth-facing side of the sun. Credit: SDO/AIA.Noctilucent Clouds The southern season for noctilucent clouds began on Dec. 13, 2015. It is expected to end in late February or March 2016.


Switch view: Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula, East Antarctica, PolarUpdated at: 02-12-2016 16:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Mar 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: 2016 Mar 30 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


20 %

30 %


05 %

15 %


01 %

05 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

10 %


25 %

25 %


25 %

45 %