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Space Weather Update: 10/18/2016

By, 10/18/2016

MARS LANDING THIS WEDNESDAY: This Wednesday, Oct. 19th, a European Space Agency (ESA) probe named "Schiaparelli" will parachute to the surface of Mars following a fiery plunge through the atmosphere. Launched from Earth last March, Schiaparelli hitched a ride to Mars onboard the Trace Gas Orbiter, a satellite that will spend the next few years scanning the Red Planet for chemical signs of life--especially biogenic methane. Follow the action on the ESA's live webcast.

THE NITROGEN FRINGE: A high-speed solar wind stream hit Earth's magnetic field on Oct. 16th, sparking in intense display of auroras over the northern reaches of Scandinavia.  During the luminous outburst, an online aurora camera in Sweden's Abisko National Park recorded a lovely ribbon of pink rippling across the chilly night sky:


This is the "nitrogen fringe." Most auroras are green--a verdant glow caused by energetic particles from space hitting oxygen atoms 100 km to 300 km above Earth's surface. Seldom-seen pink appears when the energetic particles descend lower than usual, striking nitrogen molecules at the 100 km level and below. 

"It was an incredible display of fast-moving pink auroras," says Chad Blakley, whose tour guide company Lights over Lapland operates the webcam.

Earth is still inside the solar wind stream that created this display, and the increased pressure of solar wind on our planet's magnetic field could spark more polar auroras on Oct. 18th. Arctic sky watchers should remain alert for the nitrogen fringe.

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

EAST COAST ROCKET LAUNCH: Two years after an Orbital ATK Antares rocket exploded in a stunning launch mishap, the private aerospace company is back in business. On Oct. 17th, they returned to flight by launching an improved Antares rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Sky watchers up and down the Atlantic coast witnessed the liftoff, which occurred just after 8 p.m. local time. More than 400 miles from Wallops, Chris Cook photographed the rocket ascending over Cape Cod, Massachusetts:


"I caught the end of the second stage burn from the Antares rocket," says Cook. "The unsuspecting couple sharing a kiss on the beach was an added bonus to the shot."

The Antares rocket propelled a Cygnus cargo spacecraft (also built by Orbital ATK) into Earth orbit. Carrying more than 5,100 pounds of cargo and science experiments, Cygnus is scheduled to rendezvous with the International Space Station on Sunday, Oct. 23rd.

One of the most intriguing experiments onboard Cygnus is the Fast Neutron Spectrometer, which measures the neutron component of cosmic rays. Neutrons contribute significantly to the radiation dose rates of astronauts, yet the particles are difficult to detect because they are electrically neutral and pass through most sensors undetected. The Fast Neutron Spectrometer uses a new instrument design that can significantly improves the detectability of these elusive particles.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

HALLOWEEN AT THE EDGE OF SPACE: Looking for a unique Halloween gift? This one comes straight from the edge of space! To raise money for their cosmic ray research program, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have flown a dozen trick or treating bears to the stratosphere, more than 115,000 feet high:


You can have one for only $49.95. The bear and his sidekick pumpkin come with a greeting card showing the duo in flight and certifying that they have been to the stratosphere and back again.

More funky edge-of-space gifts may be found in the Earth to Sky store.  All proceeds support cosmic ray balloon launches and STEM education.

Realtime Airglow 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 Oct. 18, 2016, the network reported 54 fireballs.
(42 sporadics, 8 Orionids, 2 epsilon Geminids, 2 Southern Taurids)



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 October 18, 2016 there were 1736 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 TM56

Oct 14

3.8 LD

24 m

2016 TZ55

Oct 15

2.1 LD

18 m

1993 TZ

Oct 16

14.4 LD

28 m

2016 TH10

Oct 16

7.3 LD

46 m

2014 UR

Oct 18

12 LD

21 m

2016 TY55

Oct 18

2.6 LD

18 m

2016 TE55

Oct 18

13.2 LD

28 m

2005 SE71

Oct 24

72.2 LD

1.0 km

2003 TL4

Oct 27

10.1 LD

565 m

2016 TB57

Oct 31

5.2 LD

26 m

2003 YT1

Oct 31

13.5 LD

850 m

2016 TG55

Nov 4

3.9 LD

31 m

2007 LS

Nov 6

33.3 LD

1.2 km

2004 KB

Nov 10

10 LD

260 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: 632.9 km/sec
density: 3.6 protons/cm3

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 2102 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B1
2025 UT Oct18
24-hr: B1 0639 UT Oct18
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2100 UTDaily Sun: 18 Oct 16All of these sunspots are quiet and stable. Solar flare activity remains very low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 23
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 18 Oct 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 21 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 18 Oct 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 76 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 18 Oct 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 2 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 4
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 3.3 nT
Bz: 0.6 nT north

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 2100 UTCoronal Holes: 18 Oct 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 Oct 17 2200 UTC


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Geomagnetic Storms:
Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth's magnetic field are given for three activity levels: activeminor stormsevere stormUpdated at: 2016 Oct 17 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

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24-48 hr


15 %

10 %


01 %

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High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


20 %

15 %


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10 %