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Space Weather Update: 11/13/2016

By, 11/13/2016

ARCTIC AURORAS--NOW! Mingling with the pale light of the supermoon, green auroras are dancing around the Arctic circle on Nov. 13th as Earth moves through a stream of high-speed solar wind. See them now in a live broadcast from Abisko National Park in Sweden.

THE BIGGEST FULL MOON IN ALMOST 70 YEARS: On Monday, Nov. 14th, there's going to be a full Moon--the biggest and brightest in almost 70 years. The best time to look in North America is before sunrise on Monday morning, while in Europe the best time is after sunset on the same day.

"The last time we had such a close full Moon was January 26, 1948," says Geoff Chester of the US Naval Observatory, "and it won't happen again until November 25, 2034."

The waxing supermoon, photographed by Charles Chiofar of Buckley WA on Nov. 12th.

Full moons vary in size because the Moon's orbit is not a circle, it's an ellipse: diagram. One side of the Moon's orbit, called "perigee," is 50,000 km closer to Earth than the other side, "apogee." This Monday's "supermoon" becomes full about 2 hours away from perigee, a coincidence that makes it as much as 14% bigger and 30% brighter than lesser moons we have seen in the past.

But will we be able to tell the difference ... just by looking?  A 30% difference in brightness can easily be masked by clouds or the glare of urban lights.  Also, there are no rulers floating in the sky to measure lunar diameters. Hanging high overhead with no reference points to provide a sense of scale, one full Moon looks much like any other.

"I think that the hype over the term 'supermoon' is a bit overblown," says Chester.  "In my book every full Moon has something to offer!"

To get the most out of Monday's apparition, try to catch the Moon just as it is rising or setting. This will activate the Moon Illusion and make the perigee Moon of Nov. 14th look super, indeed.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

ROCKET PHOTOBOMBS AURORA OUTBURST: On Friday night in Sweden, aurora tour guide Oliver Wright led a group of 8 under the starry skies of Abisko National Park hoping for a glimpse of the aurora borealis. "Suddenly," says Wright, "one of the guests shouted 'what's that?' I grabbed my binoculars and saw this amazing crescent-shaped thing moving slowly across the sky."  It was not the aurora borealis:


"I had never seen anything like it," says Wright, "so I called Chad Blakley of Lights over Lapland, and he confirmed that his live webcam saw it too." A four-frame animation shows it moving slowly across the sky for more than 20 minutes.

What was it?  Mystery solved: Earlier in the day, an Atlas V rocket blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California carrying the Worldview 4 satellite to orbit.  Later, the rocket's Centaur upper stage vented its excess fuel, creating the ghostly cloud over Sweden. 

For Wright and his guests, the show was far from over. "A huge aurora started to develop around the Moon and became a magnificent corona above our heads," he says. This is a 1/2 second exposure:


"It was moving super fast--the fastest corona I've seen in 3 years of guiding," says Wright. "In the end we had some super happy guests and a super happy guide!"

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

THEY'RE BACK--URSUS STRATOSPHERUS: To fund their cosmic ray research, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have flown a new batch of brown bears to the edge of space. Get your own pair for only $39.95--space helmets included. They make great gifts and Christmas stocking stuffers. Each adorable duo comes with a greeting card showing the bears in flight and certifying their trip to the stratosphere.


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

Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery

Realtime Airglow Photo Gallery

 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 Nov. 12, 2016, the network reported 14 fireballs.
(13 sporadics, 1 omicron Eridanid)



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 November 13, 2016 there were 1741 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 VA1

Nov 11

11.2 LD

87 m

2016 VQ

Nov 11

2.5 LD

27 m

2016 VZ

Nov 12

3.1 LD

28 m

2016 VR

Nov 12

6.2 LD

25 m

2016 VY1

Nov 12

2.6 LD

49 m

2016 VN3

Nov 12

6.1 LD

25 m

2016 VX1

Nov 13

5.2 LD

40 m

2016 UB107

Nov 14

8.4 LD

42 m

2016 VE4

Nov 15

5.2 LD

23 m

2016 VK2

Nov 16

11.3 LD

42 m

2016 UY56

Nov 18

7.2 LD

73 m

2002 QF15

Nov 19

62.6 LD

2.2 km

5143 Heracles

Nov 28

57.2 LD

2.4 km

2015 YA

Dec 13

9.6 LD

15 m

2015 XX169

Dec 13

7.4 LD

15 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.

 Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere


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.


Current Conditions

Solar wind
speed: 639.9 km/sec
density: 3.0 protons/cm3

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1827 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B1
1732 UT Nov13
24-hr: B1 0141 UT Nov13
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1800 UTDaily Sun: 13 Nov 16Not one of these sunspots poses a threat for strong solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 51
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 13 Nov 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 23 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 13 Nov 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 78 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 13 Nov 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 3 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 4
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.3 nT
Bz: -2.6 nT south

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1827 UTCoronal Holes: 13 Nov 16
Earth is entering a stream of solar wind flowing from this broad 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, noctilucent cloud images will not return until further notice. AIM science team members are optimistic that the


Switch view: Europe, USA, Asia, PolarUpdated at: 08-06-2016 16:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Nov 12 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 Nov 12 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

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24-48 hr


25 %

20 %


10 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


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20 %