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Space Weather Update: 07/20/2016

By, 07/20/2016

CME IMPACT SPARKS SUMMERTIME AURORAS: A CME struck Earth's magnetic field during the late hours of July 19th, sparking a G1-classgeomagnetic storm. Green auroras were spotted in the northern hemisphere on July 20th despite glaring moonlight and summer thunderstorms. In Edmonton, Alberta, a perfectly-timed shot by photographer Rick Emas caught the auroras alongside a bolt of lightning:


In another case of good timing, "a rainstorm came over the Glacier mountains of Montana just as the geomagnetic storm was peaking," says photographer Ray Stinson. Full moonlight mixed with raindrops to create a moonbow-aurora medley.

According to NOAA there is a 30% chance of more activity tonight.  Earth is passing through a high-speed solar wind stream in the wake of the CME that could stir up additional G1-class magnetic storms.  High-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for green lights behind the thunderclouds. Aurora alerts:text or voice

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

A SPACESHIP VISITS THE ISS, DELIVERS DNA SEQUENCER: Earlier today, July 20th, SpaceX's Dragon supply ship docked to the ISS carrying 5000 pounds of supplies and science experiments. Rod Carew witnessed the rendevous from Australia: "They passed right over Melbourne and were amazingly close together. After they passed the zenith they appeared even closer, almost touching." This was the view through his backyard telescope:


"Speeding overhead, the converging spacecraft were very difficult to track," he says, "but it was a very rewarding view."

Among the science experiments the Dragon delivered is a DNA sequencer--the first-ever in space. The Biomolecule Sequencer investigation aims to demonstrate that DNA sequencing is feasible in an orbiting spacecraft. A space-based DNA sequencer could identify microbes, diagnose diseases among deep-space crews, and potentially help detect DNA-based life elsewhere in the solar system.

Dragon is scheduled to depart the space station on Aug. 29th when it will return critical science research back to Earth. It is the second cargo spacecraft to arrive on station this week. On Monday, July 18th, a Russian ISS Progress 64 cargo craft docked to the Pirs docking compartment of the space station where it will remain for about six months.

Apparently, space is a busy place. Browse the gallery for more comings and goings.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

STORKS AND NOCTILUCENT CLOUDS: A little-known fact about the natural history of Poland: Many of the country's young storks are born under ripples of electric blue. "Here in Poland, the summer season for noctilucent clouds (NLCs) coincides with the nesting season for storks," explains photographer Marek Nikodem who caught the silhouette of a mother overlooking her chicks on July 18th:


"Thousands of storks arrive in Poland each year just in time for NLCs," says Nikodem. "I've been documenting the coincidence for years."

NLCs are Earth's highest clouds. They form at the edge of space more than 80 km above Earth's surface, when wisps of summertime water vapor wrap themselves around meteor smoke. The resulting ice crystals glow electric blue in the night sky.

In the 19th century, you had to travel near Arctic latitudes to see these clouds. In recent years, however, they have been sighted as far south as Colorado and Kansas--a possible result of climate change.

Observing tips: Look west 30 to 60 minutes after sunset when the sun has dipped ~10 degrees below the horizon. If you see luminous blue-white tendrils spreading across the sky, you may have spotted a noctilucent cloud.

Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery

Realtime Sprite 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 Jul. 20, 2016, the network reported 45 fireballs.
(41 sporadics, 2 July Pegasids, 1 beta Equuleid, 1 Northern June Aquilid)



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 July 20, 2016 there were 1713 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 NG38

Jul 14

11.5 LD

41 m

2016 NK33

Jul 16

11.3 LD

29 m

2016 ND39

Jul 16

4.9 LD

39 m

2016 OA

Jul 18

4.5 LD

36 m

2016 NS

Jul 20

8.7 LD

34 m

2002 KL6

Jul 22

26.6 LD

1.4 km

2016 NJ39

Jul 22

11.6 LD

39 m

2011 BX18

Jul 25

52.7 LD

1.1 km

2016 NW15

Jul 26

13.7 LD

35 m

2016 NE39

Jul 26

6.7 LD

88 m

2016 NX22

Aug 2

12.9 LD

87 m

2005 OH3

Aug 3

5.8 LD

28 m

2000 DP107

Aug 12

66.5 LD

1.0 km

2004 BO41

Sep 7

38.9 LD

1.1 km

2015 KE

Sep 10

14.9 LD

23 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: 496.4 km/sec
density: 0.4 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1902 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B6
1442 UT Jul20
24-hr: C4 0317 UT Jul20
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1800 UTDaily Sun: 20 Jul 16Sunspot AR2567 has a 'beta-gamma' magnetic field that poses a threat for M-class solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 58
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 20 Jul 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 16 days (8%) 
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 20 Jul 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 101 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 20 Jul 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 2 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 5
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 10.7 nT
Bz: 10.4 nT north

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1902 UTCoronal Holes: 20 Jul 16
Earth is inside a stream of solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole. Credit: SDO/AIA.Noctilucent Clouds Images from NASA's AIM spacecraft are once again appearing on Check back daily for space-based sightings of noctilucent clouds.


Switch view: Europe, USA, Asia, PolarUpdated at: 07-20-2016 16:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Jul 19 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


25 %

25 %


01 %

01 %

Geomagnetic Storms:
Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth's magnetic field are given for three activity levels: activeminor stormsevere stormUpdated at: 2016 Jul 19 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


30 %

30 %


05 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


20 %

15 %


35 %

30 %


30 %

30 %