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Space Weather Update: 05/09/2016

By, 05/09/2016

TRANSIT OF MERCURY: Today, May 9th, Mercury is passing directly between Earth and the sun, producing a rare transit of Mercury's inky-black disk across the solar surface. Images of the event are pouring into our image gallery from around the world. Browse and enjoy!

STRONG GEOMAGNETIC STORM: For the past 24+ hours, Earth's magnetic field has been reverberating with geomagnetic storms. At their most intense on May 8th, G3-class storms sparked bright auroras around both poles, parts of four continents, and more than a half a dozen US states. In Antarctica, everything turned green:


"The auroras were beautiful at Argentina's Belgrano II base in Antarctica," reports photographer Gabriel Saiquita, who has witnessed bright Southern Lights for two days in a row.

In the United States, auroras were sighted in AlaskaWashingtonIdahoMichigan,MontanaMinnesota, and even Arkansas.

The "Mother's Day Storms" of May 8th began when Earth crossed a fold in theheliospheric current sheet, entering a region of space filled with negative-polarity magnetic fields. Such fields easily link to Earth's magnetic field, opening a crack in our planet's magnetosphere. Solar wind pours in to fuel spectacular auroras.

Overall, this was the strongest episode of geomagnetic activity so far in 2016. The storms are subsiding now. NOAA forecasters estimate a 65% chance of minor G1-class storms on May 9th as Earth's magnetic environment returns to normal.Aurora alerts: textvoice.

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

DOUBLE SPACE WEATHER BALLOON LAUNCH: Yesterday, May 8th, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus conducted a double-launch of space weather balloons. The two balloons, one released from Oregon and the other from California, flew into the strongest geomagnetic storm of 2016.


Each of the balloons carried a cosmic ray payload to the stratosphere, measuring atmospheric radiation from ground level to the edge of space during the G3-class storm. What effect does such a strong geomagnetic storm have on the upper atmosphere? And does Oregon receive more space radiation because of its higher magnetic latitude? These are just two of the questions we hope to answer.

The payloads have since parachuted back to Earth--one landing in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, and the other on the east side of the Cascade mountains near Bend, Oregon. Recovery teams will enter the wilderness on May 9th and bring back the data. Stay tuned!

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Sprite 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 May. 9, 2016, the network reported 9 fireballs.
(5 sporadics, 3 eta 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 May 9, 2016 there were potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 JB

May 4

4.1 LD

18 m

2016 HN

May 4

12.3 LD

130 m

2008 TZ3

May 5

13.1 LD

355 m

2016 JS5

May 5

0.5 LD

4 m

2016 JX11

May 7

8.7 LD

47 m

2014 JG55

May 8

7.6 LD

7 m

2016 JC6

May 8

12.8 LD

240 m

2016 JQ5

May 9

1.6 LD

10 m

2016 GS2

May 18

3.4 LD

108 m

2016 HF3

May 18

8.5 LD

57 m

2009 DL46

May 24

6.2 LD

215 m

1997 XF11

Jun 10

70 LD

1.8 km

2015 XZ378

Jun 13

9.7 LD

16 m

2009 CV

Jun 20

12.4 LD

60 m

2010 NY65

Jun 24

10.7 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: 634.6 km/sec
density: 1.4 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1808 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B6
1748 UT May09
24-hr: B9 0523 UT May09
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1800 UTDaily Sun: 09 May 16Solar activity is low. None of these sunspots pose a threat for strong flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 42
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 09 May 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 09 May 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 84 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 09 May 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 3 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 7
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.0 nT
Bz: 0.6 nT north

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1809 UTCoronal Holes: 09 May 16Erth is inside a stream of solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole. Credit: SDO/AIA.Noctilucent Clouds The southern season for noctilucent clouds has ended and we are now waiting for the first northern NLCs to appear--probably in mid-to late-May.


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

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 May 08 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 May 08 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


40 %

40 %


30 %

30 %


05 %

05 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


05 %

05 %


20 %

20 %


65 %

65 %