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Space Weather Update: 10/22/2016

By, 10/22/2016

CRASH LANDING ON MARS: Evidence is mounting that the European Space Agency's Schiaparelli probe crash landed on Mars on Oct. 19th. New images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show the probable crater as well as the lander's parachute on the ground nearby. Telemetry from the descent suggests that Schiaparelli's thrusters switched off prematurely, resulting in a much longer free-fall than planned. Mars is notoriously difficult to reach with only about half of all landers successfully reaching the surface.

A HOLE IN THE SUN'S ATMOSPHERE--UPDATED: A large coronal hole is turning to face Earth, and it is spewing a complicated stream of solar wind toward our planet.  This image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the outlines of the structure on Oct. 22nd:


Coronal holes are places in the sun's atmosphere where the magnetic field opens up and allows solar wind to escape. Big holes like this one typically appear once or twice a month.  

According to NOAA computer models, the emerging stream of solar wind could reach Earth as early as Oct. 24th, although Oct. 25th is more likely.  Because the stream is broad, it could influence our planet for 2 to 3 days, sparking polar geomagnetic storms and Arctic auroras for several nights in a row.  Stay tuned for updates as the solar wind approaches.

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

TIANGONG 2 SIGHTED FROM EARTH: China's new space station literally doubled in size on Oct. 18th when two Chinese astronauts (taikonauts) guided their Shenzhou 11 spacecraft into Tiangong 2's orbit and docked with it.  This has made the growing outpost even easier to see from Earth.  Last night, amateur astronomer Tom Harradine of Brisbane, Australia, took this picture of the joined spacecraft:


"I used a Skywatcher 14-inch Dobsonian telescope and a Canon EOS 70D digital camera to take this 1/3200 s exposure (ISO 800)," he explains. It was great to see the outlines of the space station with astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong on board."

Linked together, the merged spacecraft will orbit Earth for the next month providing a home in space about the size of a double decker bus. If all goes as planned, Haipeng and Dong will more than double the record for the longest-duration Chinese crewed mission, extending the mark from 15 days to 33 days. They will spend their time conducting science experiments and rehearsing procedures for future missions: Within a few years, China plans to start launching modules for a much larger Mir-class space station slated for completion in the 2020s.

Ready to see for yourself?  Tiangong 2 flyby predictions may be found at Heaven's Above. 

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

METEORS FROM HALLEY'S COMET--UPDATED: The Orionid meteor shower is subsiding as Earth exits a stream of debris from parent Comet Halley. Earth encounters this debris stream every year in late October, and it usually produces a good show. Not so in 2016. Glare from the bright gibbous Moon wiped out the normal profusion of faint Orionids. Fortunately, there were some fireballs--that is, extra-bright meteors caused by the disintegration of larger debris particles. Amateur astronomer Thomas Ashcraft caught this one streaking over his observatory in rural New Mexico:

"As you can see in the video, brilliant occasional Orionid fireballs can be seen even in bright moonlight," says Ashcraft.

Readers, when you play the video, don't forget to turn up the volume. You can hear the signals of distant radio transmitters reflecting from the ionized trail of the fireball. "The full radio reflection lasted nearly two minutes," he says.

Realtime Meteor Photo Gallery

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. 22, 2016, the network reported 59 fireballs.
(32 sporadics, 23 Orionids, 2 epsilon Geminids, 2 Leonis Minorids)



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 22, 2016 there were potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 TY55

Oct 18

2.6 LD

18 m

2016 TE55

Oct 18

13.2 LD

28 m

2016 US4

Oct 20

7.2 LD

57 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

3.8 LD

31 m

2016 UE

Nov 5

5.2 LD

42 m

2007 LS

Nov 6

33.3 LD

1.2 km

2004 KB

Nov 10

10 LD

260 m

2002 QF15

Nov 19

62.6 LD

2.2 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: 370.6 km/sec
density: 13.8 protons/cm3

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 2112 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B1
1721 UT Oct22
24-hr: B1 1721 UT Oct22
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2100 UTDaily Sun: 22 Oct 16Both of these sunspots are quiet and stable. Solar flare activity remains very low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 29
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 22 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 22 Oct 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 78 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 22 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= 2
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 4.7 nT
Bz: 2.9 nT south

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 2112 UTCoronal Holes: 22 Oct 16
A large coronal hole is emerging over the sun's eastern limb. Solar wind flowing from this structure should reach Earth on Oct. 25-26. 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 21 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 21 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

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35 %

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01 %

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High latitudes

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