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Space Weather Update: 09/17/2016

By, 09/17/2016

AURORA OUTLOOK: A solar wind stream filled with negative-polarity magnetic fields is expected to brush past Earth on Sept. 19-20.  Minor geomagnetic storms and high-latitude auroras are likely when the solar wind arrives. Free: Space Weather Alerts.

A SHADOW FALLS ACROSS THE HARVEST MOON: The Harvest Moon is supposed to be a uniformly bright orb. This year it wasn't. The Harvest Moon of Sept. 16, 2016, passed through the outskirts of Earth's shadow, dimming one side of the lunar disk. Maximilian Teodorescu photographed the Moon's lopsided glow from Magurele, Romania:


"Seeing many lunar eclipses along the years, I thought that this one would not be a memorable one," says Teodorescu. "I was quite wrong, As soon as I noticed that the shadow was well visible with the naked eye, I mounted my gear in order to get some shots of it." Teodorescu's close-up image of the eclipse is a must-see.

Astronomers call this type of lunar eclipse "penumbral." A penumbral eclipse happens when the Moon passes through the pale outskirts of Earth's shadow. It is much less dramatic than a total lunar eclipse, sometimes called a "blood moon" because of its deep red color. Penumbral eclipses are less colorful; nevertheless they have a subtle beauty all their own. See for yourself in the lunar eclipse photo gallery.

Realtime Eclipse Photo Gallery

DARK MORNING RAY: On Sept. 15th, Stephen O'Keefe of Houston, Texas, was driving to work just before sunrise when a dark ray sprung up from the eastern horizon. "It was very tall and all by itself," says O'Keefe, who snapped this picture using his mobile phone:


The solitary nature of the dark ray makes it look less familiar than it actually is. This is an example of a crepuscular ray--essentially a shadow of a distant cloud carving an immense tube of darkness in the early morning sky. Drivers see these rays all the time. Usually they appear in fan-shaped groups that trace the ragged edges of clouds. This time, we're guessing, a single dense cloud did the trick.

The sun isn't the only thing that can make such a ray. The full Moon can do it too. Be alert tonight for crepuscular rays spreading from the eastern sky as the Harvest Moon rises into the night.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery

Aurora alerts: text or voice

 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. 17, 2016, the network reported 15 fireballs.
(12 sporadics, 2 September epsilon Perseids, 1 Southern Taurid)



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 17, 2016 there were 1731 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 RU33

Sep 16

6 LD

14 m

2016 QL44

Sep 17

3.6 LD

42 m

2016 QS11

Sep 18

12.2 LD

29 m

2016 RM20

Sep 20

6.2 LD

25 m

2009 UG

Sep 30

7.3 LD

101 m

2100 Ra-Shalom

Oct 9

58.3 LD

1.1 km

2014 UR

Oct 18

12 LD

21 m

2005 SE71

Oct 24

72.2 LD

1.0 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: 292.6 km/sec
density: 5.4 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2136 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B1
1710 UT Sep17
24-hr: B4 0605 UT Sep17
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2100 UTDaily Sun: 17 Sep 16New sunspot AR2592 is small and poses no threat for strong explosions. Solar flare activity remains very low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 13
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 17 Sep 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 20 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 17 Sep 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 84 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 17 Sep 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 0 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 2
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 3.3 nT
Bz: 0.6 nT north

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2136 UTCoronal Holes: 17 Sep 16
The leading edge of a solar wind stream flowing from this coronal hole could reach Earth as early as Sept.19th; the 20th is more likely, though. 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 16 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 Sep 16 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


10 %

05 %


01 %

01 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


20 %

15 %


20 %

10 %


10 %

05 %