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Space Weather Update: 09/02/2016

By, 09/02/2016

SPACE WEATHER BALLOON LAUNCH TODAY: Today, Sept. 2nd, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus are launching space weather balloons from opposite ends of the USA--one from California and another from Maine. The purpose of the experiment is to explore how atmospheric radiation varies on transcontinental scales. This double launch will add to the body of data gathered by four similar launches from Chile, California, Oregon and Washington on Aug. 21-22. Stay tuned for results.

GEOMAGNETIC STORM: A solar wind stream is buffeting Earth's magnetic field on Sept. 2nd, causing G1- to G2-class geomagnetic storms. Bright auroras have been reported from both ends of the Earth, including this display over Antarctica:


Varun Dongre took these pictures from the Maitri Indian Research Base, located in Antarctica's Schirmacher oasis. "We kept an eye on the sky tonight and witnessed beautiful dancing auroras," says Dongre. "It was very bright and moving rapidly. The whole sky turned green and violet--just wonderful!"

The solar wind responsible for this event is flowing from a wide "coronal hole" on the sun. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory has been monitoring the structure:


Coronal holes are places in the sun's atmosphere where the magnetic field opens up and allows solar wind to escape. This hole is so wide, the solar wind flowing from it could influence Earth for days to come. High latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras. Aurora alerts: text or voice

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

AFRICAN SOLAR ECLIPSE: On Sept. 1st, sky watchers in more than 50 African countries witnessed a solar eclipse when the new Moon passed in front of the sun, covering as much as 97% of the solar disk. This is how the sun looked from Reunion island east of Madagascar:


"We observed the annular solar eclipse from lÉtang-Salé les Bains, Réunion," says photographer Andreas Möller. "The atmosphere at the beach was fantastic as was the eclipse itself!"

Browse the solar eclipse gallery for more images:

Realtime Solar Eclipse Photo Gallery

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery


 Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere

Updated: Sept.1, 2016 // Next Flight: Sept. 2, 2016

Sept. 1, 2016: Our next balloon launch will be a double. Today, a team of students is on its way to Maine to launch radiation sensors from the vicinity of Mt. Washington NH on Sept. 2nd. While the Maine/New Hampshire balloon is in the air, another team will launch identical sensors from central California. This double launch will provide new information about the radiation environment on transcontinental scales.

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 almost 13% 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.

THIS RESEARCH IS CROWD-FUNDED: The cosmic ray research presented on is done by students, driven by curiosity, and funded entirely by readers.  Our latest flight over California on Aug. 21st was sponsored by World Tech Toys of Valencia CA.  In exchange for their generous donation of $750, we flew a toy Striker Drone to the edge of space:


HD video and poster-quality images of the drone in space are now being used by World Tech Toys for marketing and outreach--an out-of-this-world bargain.

Our next flights on Sept. 2nd and Sept. 10th need sponsors. Would you like to assist?  Contact Dr. Tony Phillips to make arrangements.

 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 Sep. 2, 2016, the network reported 23 fireballs.
(23 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 September 2, 2016 there were 1727 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 QA2

Aug 28

0.2 LD

40 m

2016 PA40

Aug 29

14.5 LD

54 m

2016 QB11

Aug 31

3.4 LD

31 m

2004 BO41

Sep 7

38.9 LD

1.1 km

2016 QS44

Sep 10

8 LD

57 m

2015 KE

Sep 10

14.9 LD

23 m

2016 QL44

Sep 17

3.7 LD

44 m

2016 QS11

Sep 18

12.2 LD

34 m

2009 UG

Sep 30

7.3 LD

101 m

2100 Ra-Shalom

Oct 9

58.3 LD

1.1 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.


Current Conditions

Solar wind
speed: 627.8 km/sec
density: 1.6 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2035 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B8
1849 UT Sep02
24-hr: B9 0441 UT Sep02
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2000 UTDaily Sun: 02 Sep 16Sunspot AR2585 is large but (so far) quiet. Solar activity remains low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 66
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 02 Sep 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 20 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 02 Sep 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 95 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 02 Sep 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 4 unsettled
24-hr max: Kp= 6
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 7.6 nT
Bz: 3.8 nT south

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2035 UTCoronal Holes: 02 Sep 16
Solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole could reach Earth as early as Sept. 2-3, producing active conditions in the geomagnetic field. Credit: NASA/SDO.Noctilucent Clouds NASA's AIM spacecraft has suffered an anomaly, and a software patch is required to fix it. As a result, current noctilucent cloud images will not return until late September 2016.


Switch view: Europe, USA, Asia, PolarUpdated at: 08-06-2016 16:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Sep 01 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


20 %

20 %


01 %

01 %

Geomagnetic Storms:
Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth's magnetic field are given for three activity levels: activeminor stormsevere stormUpdated at: 2016 Sep 01 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


20 %

15 %


05 %

01 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


20 %

20 %


20 %

15 %