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Space Weather Update: 09/29/2016

By, 09/29/2016

COMET LANDING ON FRIDAY: On Friday, Sept. 30th, Europe's Rosetta spacecraft will deliberately crash land on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, ending the probe's two year mission in orbit around the comet's nucleus. With cameras and other instruments taking data until the last moment, Rosetta will descend into a mysterious region known as Ma'at home to several "active pits," which are spewing jets of gas and dust into space. Rosetta's death plunge could be exciting, indeed. NASA TV will cover the event live starting at 3:15 a.m.PDT. Tune in!

GEOMAGNETIC STORMS CONTINUE: G1-class geomagnetic storms are ringing Earth's poles on Sept. 29th as a high-speed (600+ km/s) stream of solar wind continues to buffet our planet's magnetic field. "We have seen auroras here in Iceland for 5 nights in a row," reports Olivier Staiger, who took this picture of tourists enjoying the lights last night:


"For the past five days I've been guiding a small private aurora chase tour for the president of a local astronomical society," he says. "We hit the jackpot right on the day they arrived."

5 nights in a row?  Make that 6.... More polar auroras are likely tonight as the solar wind continues to blow.  If you live near the Arctic Circle, go outside after nightfall.  Otherwise, monitor the realtime photo gallery for sightings. Free: Aurora Alerts

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

CELEBRATING AN ANNIVERSARY AT THE EDGE OF and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus wish to congratulate Tommy Tat-Fung Tse and his wife Annie. Today is their 20th wedding annversary! To surprise Annie, Tommy sponsored a cosmic ray balloon and used it to fly this special anniversary card to the edge of space:


"With Love from Space, Mei Mei," says Tommy. "Atalie, Bethany, Curtis and I love you forever!"

The card was painted by their daughter Bethany, an art major. It flew to an altitude of 34.7 km (113,845 ft), and parachuted back to Earth on Sept. 11, 2016. In addition to this snapshot, and the card itself, Annie is receiving a complete HD video of the flight.

Tommy's anniversary gift to Annie was also a gift to our radiation monitoring program. His sponsorship of the Sept. 11th balloon flight made it possible for us to launch an array of cosmic ray sensors to the stratosphere. Thank you, Tommy!

Readers, if you would like to contribute to a growing body of knowledge about atmospheric radiation and see your own photo or card at the edge of space, pleasecontact Dr. Tony Phillips to sponsor a flight. Sponsorships are currently available for flights scheduled on Oct. 7th, Oct. 18th, and Oct. 27th.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery


 Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere

Updated: Sept. 29 2016 // Next Flight: Oct. 1, 2016

Sept. 20, 2016: Readers, thank you for your patience while we continue to develop this new section of We've been working to streamline our data reduction, allowing us to post results from balloon flights much more rapidly, and we have developed a new data product, shown here:


This plot displays radiation measurements not only in the stratosphere, but also at aviation altitudes. Dose rates are expessed as multiples of sea level. For instance, we see that boarding a plane that flies at 25,000 feet exposes passengers to dose rates ~10x higher than sea level. At 40,000 feet, the multiplier is closer to 50x. These measurements are made by our usual cosmic ray payload as it passes through aviation altitudes en route to the stratosphere over California.

What is this all about? 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 more than 12% 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.

 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. 29, 2016, the network reported 14 fireballs.
(13 sporadics, 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 29, 2016 there were 1731 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 SW3

Sep 26

1 LD

10 m

2016 SX1

Sep 26

2.2 LD

9 m

2016 SG

Sep 27

2.3 LD

21 m

2016 SW1

Sep 28

1.3 LD

9 m

2016 SL2

Sep 29

2.4 LD

35 m

2016 SZ1

Sep 29

6.1 LD

21 m

2009 UG

Sep 30

7.3 LD

101 m

2016 SR2

Oct 7

3.8 LD

22 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

2003 TL4

Oct 27

10.1 LD

565 m

2003 YT1

Oct 31

13.5 LD

850 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.


Current Conditions

Solar wind
speed: 670.9 km/sec
density: 1.8 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2006 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B2
1435 UT Sep29
24-hr: B2 1435 UT Sep29
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1959 UTDaily Sun: 29 Sep 16Sunspot AR2597 has a stable magnetic field that poses little threat for strong solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 20
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 29 Sep 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 20 days (7%) 
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 29 Sep 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 84 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 29 Sep 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 5 storm
24-hr max: Kp= 5
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.7 nT
Bz: 0.7 nT north

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2005 UTCoronal Holes: 29 Sep 16
Earth is inside a stream of solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole. 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 28 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 28 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


40 %

40 %


20 %

20 %


10 %

10 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


20 %

20 %


25 %

25 %


35 %

35 %