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Space Weather Update: 11/25/2016

By, 11/25/2016

WHY THE MARS LANDER CRASHED: The European Space Agency's Schiaparelli lander crashed into the surface of Mars last month. A new analysis of telemetry data explains why: A glitch in Schiaparelli's navigation system caused it to think it had landed when, in fact, Schiaparelli was still 3.7 km above the Red Planet's surface. The lander cast away its parachute and turned off its braking thrusters prematurely, resulting in a brutal 'touch down' at 540 km/h. Get the full story from ESA.

SOLAR WIND STORM: Earth is now fully inside a high-speed solar wind stream flowing from a large hole in the sun's atmosphere. Gusts clocking 600+ km/s are causing G1-class geomagnetic storms and bright auroras around the poles. Mia Stålnacke of Kiruna, Sweden, photographed this outburst of green on Nov. 24th:


"These were the most intense auroras I've ever seen!" says Stålnacke. "And here in Kiruna I get to see them all the time. The rapidly moving greens and pinks were a real treat."

The solar wind stream responsible for this display is broad and should take several days to cross. Arctic auroras are likely from now until at least Nov. 26th. Free:Aurora Alerts

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

PLANET AIRGLOW: Jeff Dai was camping in the Himalayas on Nov. 18th when he photographed a green light in the sky. But it was not the aurora borealis.  "It was airglow," says Dai, who wrapped his photos of the display into a 'little planet':


"This is a 360-degree stereographic projection showing our camp site in Tibet," says Dai.  "In places like this, far from urban lights, the sky is filled with wonders."

Indeed, "the surrounding sky contains many jewels," he points out. "There is Polaris at 12 pm, the bright band of Zodiacal light and M44 at 3 pm, the plane of our Milky Way galaxy at 4:30 pm and 11pm, M31 at 10 pm, and Sirius, the brightest star of all, at 5 pm."

Although airglow looks like the aurora borealis, it is not. Auroras are caused by gusts of solar wind. Airglow is caused by chemi-luminescent reactions in Earth's upper atmosphere.  These reactions get started during daylight hours when the atmosphere is bathed in strong UV radiation from the sun.  At night we see the afterglow, colored green by oxygen atoms 90-100 km high or sometimes red by hydroxyl ions 86-87 km high.

"Also unlike auroras, airglow is visible all over the globe," adds Dai. "Though brightest 10-15 degrees above the horizon it fills the sky and may be photographed from dark-sky sites everywhere." Browse the airglow gallery for more examples.

Realtime Airglow Photo Gallery

A FAR OUT STOCKING STUFFER: It's out of this world: the Sirius Space Pendant. To raise money for their space weather ballooning program, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have flown 3 dozen pendants to the edge of space–and you can have one for $69.95. The pendant comes with a greeting card showing the jewelry in flight and certifying that it has been to the stratosphere and back again.


The pendants flew to the edge of space on Nov. 20, 2016, alongside an array of cosmic radiation sensors. (We're reducing the data now!) After the balloon exploded, the payload parachuted back to Earth, landing in the snowy San Antonio mountains north of Tonopah, Nevada, where a student team recovered it on Nov. 22nd.

The research of Earth to Sky Calculus is not supported by government grants or corporate donations. Instead, we are entirely crowd-funded. Proceeds from the sale of items like the Sirius Pendant go right back into cutting-edge student research. More edge of space Christmas gifts may be found in the Earth to Sky Store.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Sprite 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. 25, 2016, the network reported 30 fireballs.
(25 sporadics, 4 Leonids, 1 Quadrantid)



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 25, 2016 there were 1739 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 WW2

Nov 25

0.3 LD

7 m

2016 WU2

Nov 25

1.5 LD

14 m

2016 WV2

Nov 25

6.7 LD

23 m

2016 WG

Nov 25

4.2 LD

95 m

5143 Heracles

Nov 28

57.2 LD

2.4 km

2016 WQ

Nov 30

4.5 LD

33 m

2015 YA

Dec 13

9.6 LD

15 m

2015 XX169

Dec 13

7.4 LD

15 m

2015 YQ1

Dec 21

6.2 LD

11 m

2006 BZ7

Dec 22

74.5 LD

1.4 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.

 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: 647.2 km/sec
density: 2.6 protons/cm3

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 2019 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B1
1430 UT Nov25
24-hr: B2 1238 UT Nov25
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2000 UTDaily Sun: 25 Nov 16Sunspot AR2612 has a stable magnetic field that poses little threat for strong flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 12
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 25 Nov 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 25 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 25 Nov 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 79 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 25 Nov 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 4 unsettled
24-hr max: Kp= 6
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.5 nT
Bz: -1.2 nT south

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 2018 UTCoronal Holes: 25 Nov 16
Earth is inside a stream of solar wind flowing from this large 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 24 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 Nov 24 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


35 %

25 %


10 %

10 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


20 %

20 %


20 %

20 %