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Space Weather Update: 04/21/2016

By, 04/21/2016

LYRID METEORS VS. THE FULL MOON: Earth is entering a stream of debris from Comet Thatcher, source of the annual Lyrid meteor shower. Normally, sky watchers would see 10 to 20 meteors per hour when the shower peaks during the night of April 21-22. This year, however, the Lyrids have competition. The full Moon is out tonight, too, and only the brightest Lyrids will pierce the glare.

Fortunately, there are some bright ones. Last night, NASA's network of all-sky meteor cameras caught this Lyrid fireball streaking over New Mexico, easily seen alongside the Moon:


On April 20-21, NASA cameras picked up four Lyrid fireballs over the USA. That number could increase on April 21-22 as Earth moves deeper into the debris stream of Comet Thatcher. Can the Lyrids compete with the full Moon? We will find out tonight. [sky map]

There is one way to experience this shower unmitigated by moonlight. Try listening to Space Weather Radio for live radar echoes from Lyrid meteoroids. The Moon does not affect this method of detecting meteors. Good luck!

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

SUNSPOT MIRAGE: For many photographers, departing sunspot AR2529 was an irresistible target at sunset. The sunspot's heart-shaped core beamed through the rosy twilight, marking the sun for a unique shot. On April 16th in San Francisco, California, it got a little weird. "Both the sun and the sunspot were stretched and distorted as the sun sank behind the waves of the Pacific Ocean," says Mila Zinkova, who photographed the mirage:


"Notice the vertical stretching of the sunspot," says she. "It was amazing to watch how the appearance of the sun changed as sunset progressed.  Here is the full video."

Atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley explains what happened: "Each sunspot on Mila's picture is a mini mirage. The California Coast is famous for its temperature inversions. Air cooled by the offshore ocean current lies beneath warm air from inland. Sunset sunlight between the layers bends and splits into three mirage images. Two sun slices descend and one upside-down one rises. Nature is not always so simple though. In the case of Mila's sunset, there were multiple small inversion layers. Each inversion layer sliced up the sun like the corrugations of a Chinese lantern. If the air were steady enough we might see that some of the heart shaped sunspots were upside down."

Today, AR2529 has left the disk of the sun.  Good-bye, and thanks for all the photo-ops.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

A DASH OF GREEN IN ARCTIC TWILIGHT: Around the Arctic Circle, night is vanishing as the summer sun rises over the polar realm. This is creating a short-lived mixture of colors in the sky: aurora green and twilight blue. Aleksander Chernucho sends this picture of the phenomenon from Russia's Kola peninsula:


"I think summer vacation is about to begin," says Chernucho, "because these are the last auroras of the 2015-2016 season."

Or, maybe, the second-to-last. An incoming solar wind stream on April 24-25 could add one more dash of green to the twilight before the Arctic sun finally overwhelms the Northern Lights. Monitor the aurora gallery for last-chance sightings.

Realtime Aurora 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 Apr. 21, 2016, the network reported 11 fireballs.
(6 sporadics, 4 April Lyrids, 1 eta Aquariid)



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 April 21, 2016 there were 1695 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 GM2

Apr 16

12.6 LD

41 m

2016 FY12

Apr 17

5.8 LD

24 m

2016 GP221

Apr 18

1.5 LD

29 m

2016 FN13

Apr 19

13.9 LD

13 m

2016 GB222

Apr 21

4.4 LD

20 m

2016 GC1

Apr 21

8.8 LD

20 m

2016 GZ220

Apr 21

10.1 LD

23 m

2016 GV221

Apr 21

8.6 LD

42 m

2016 HA

Apr 22

6.5 LD

26 m

2016 GD207

Apr 22

4.4 LD

29 m

2016 FH12

Apr 23

7.9 LD

21 m

2016 GC222

Apr 24

14 LD

31 m

2016 FY3

Apr 25

6.4 LD

310 m

2001 VG5

Apr 28

52.4 LD

1.8 km

2016 HK

May 1

4.6 LD

52 m

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

2016 GS2

May 18

3.4 LD

109 m

2009 DL46

May 24

6.2 LD

215 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: 419.6 km/sec
density: 5.8 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1729 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B1
1530 UT Apr21
24-hr: B4 0510 UT Apr21
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1700 UTDaily Sun: 21 Apr 16New sunspot SR2533 has a stable magnetic field that does not pose a threat for strong explosions and solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 24
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 21 Apr 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 21 Apr 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 83 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 21 Apr 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 1 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 2
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 8.5 nT
Bz: 4.4 nT north

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1729 UTCoronal Holes: 21 Apr 16Solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole should reach Earth on April 24-25. 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 Apr 20 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


01 %

01 %


01 %

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Geomagnetic Storms:
Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth's magnetic field are given for three activity levels: activeminor stormsevere stormUpdated at: 2016 Apr 20 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


05 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


20 %

20 %


20 %

20 %