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Space Weather Update: 09/03/2016

By, 09/03/2016

QUIET WITH A CHANCE OF FLARES: Solar activity is low, however, it might not remain so. Big sunspot AR2585 is developed an unstable 'beta-gamma' magnetic field that harbors energy for moderately strong solar flares. NOAA forecasters estimate a 20% chance of M-flares on Sept. 3rd. Solar flare alerts: text or voice

HIGH-SPEED SOLAR WIND SPARKS AURORAS: A stream of very fast moving solar wind is buffeting Earth's magnetic field this weekend, and this is causing geomagnetic storms around the poles. A twilight display in Lofoten, Norway, on Sept. 3rd prompted one photographer to move his dinner table outside:


"I had a plan to invite my dear for a glass of wine this evening," says June Grønseth. "Due to a burst of light from the sky, I just had to change the seating from inside to outside my home. Here in Lofoten, we are really enjoying life."

The solar wind is flowing from an unusually large coronal hole on the sun, shown here in an image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory:


Coronal holes are regions in the sun's atmosphere where the magnetic field opens up and allows solar wind to escape. This hole is spewing a stream of solar wind so broad, it could influence Earth's space environment for days to come. High-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras throughout the weekend. Aurora alerts: text or voice

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

SUNSET PLANETS: Last night, careful observers of the sunset may have noticed a close encounter between Jupiter and crescent Moon. For many, the meeting was blocked by low hanging clouds. "Flying at 39,000 feet definitely improved visibility," says Mark Staples, who took this picture from the window seat of an airplane over South Carolina:


"We were flying over the remains of Hurricane Hermine," says Staples. "It was hard to get a clear, motionless, undistorted pic thru the airplane window, but the storm clouds made for a spectacular sunset."

More images of the conjunction, including this rare daytime shot, may be found in the realtime photo gallery:

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery


 Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere

Updated: Sept.3, 2016 // Next Flight: Sept. 10, 2016

Sept. 3, 2016: On Sept. 2nd, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus conducted a successful transcontinental launch of two space weather balloons--one from New Hampshire and another from California. The New Hampshire balloon recorded the highest levels of atmospheric radiation since our monitoring program began two years ago. Students are reducing the data now, and we will report the results in the coming week.

While you wait, here is a shot of the Atlantic coast of Maine taken during the Sept. 2nd balloon flight from an altitude of 118,000 feet:


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. 3, 2016, the network reported 16 fireballs.
(16 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 3, 2016 there were 1728 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


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: 650.7 km/sec
density: 0.9 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2135 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B4
2009 UT Sep03
24-hr: B7 0530 UT Sep03
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2100 UTDaily Sun: 03 Sep 16Sunspot AR2585 is large but (so far) quiet. Solar activity remains low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 50
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 03 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 03 Sep 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 95 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 03 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: 5.7 nT
Bz: 4.8 nT south

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2135 UTCoronal Holes: 03 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 02 2201 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 02 2201 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


01 %

01 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


20 %

15 %


15 %

15 %