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Space Weather Update: 12/22/2016

By, 12/22/2016

THE SOLAR WIND HAS ARRIVED: Earth is inside a stream of solar wind blowing out of a huge hole in the sun's atmosphere. NOAA forecasters estimate a 60% chance of G1-class geomagnetic storms on Dec. 22nd. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras, especially during the hours around local midnight. Free: Aurora Alerts.

LONG NIGHTS, BRIGHT AURORAS: Talk about perfect timing. On Dec. 21st, the northern winter solstice, a solar wind stream hit Earth's magnetic field, filling the long hours of polar darkness with bright auroras. In northern Sweden, the green glow cut through clouds and stopped traffic:


"The auroras appeared in early evening," says photographer Tim Nordström of Abisko, Sweden, "and they continued shining for most of the night."

This is just the beginning. The solar wind stream is broad and Earth is expected to remain inside it for days. NOAA forecasters estimate a 60% chance of continued polar magnetic storms on Dec. 22nd. These are the longest nights of the year in the northern hemisphere, so Arctic sky watchers will have plenty of darkness for aurora sightings.

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

HIGH NOON INSIDE THE ARCTIC CIRCLE: With a geomagnetic storm underway, long Arctic nights filled with auroras can be indescribably beautiful. But the short days have something to offer, too.  Witness this photo, taken by Chris Hodgson at "high noon" on Dec. 21st more than 250 kilometers inside the Arctic Circle:


"The sun never made it above the horizon," says Hodgson, "but we could see its twilight glow painting the icy landscape with colors I had never seen before. This lasted for about 4 hours before darkness resumed."

Hodgson, a tour guide for Lights over Lapland, took the picture from the shore of Lake Torneträsk near Björkliden, Sweden. More images of polar noon may be found here and here.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

STUDENT CHRISTMAS SPECIAL: Is there a young scientist in your life? Give them the gift of exploration. For the holiday season only, we're reducing the cost of payload space on Earth to Sky Calculus balloons from $500 to only $299.95. Buy an edge of space gift certificate before Dec. 25th and you can send an experiment, photo, or keepsake item to the stratosphere, completely supported by an Earth to Sky Calculus launch and recovery team.

This is not only a great Christmas gift, but also a good kickstarter for science fair projects. Experiments will be flown and returned along with video footage, GPS tracking, temperature, pressure, altimetry and radiation data.

To take advantage of the discounted rate, payment must be received before Dec. 25th. However, the flight can take place at any time in the next 12 months. A Skype brainstorming session is included with each certificate. Dr. Tony Phillips and other members of the Earth to Sky team will chat with students to help them craft an experiment that will work in the harsh environment of the stratosphere.

URSID METEOR SHOWER: Earth is passing through a filament of debris from comet 8P/Tuttle, source of the annual Ursid meteor shower. Forecasters expect the shower to peak on Dec. 22nd with 5 to 10 meteors per hour flying out of the constellation Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper). The display is usually mild, but outbursts of Ursids occasionally surprise observers with rates many times normal. Monitor the realtime meteor gallery for sightings.

Realtime Airglow 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 Dec. 22, 2016, the network reported 9 fireballs.
(6 sporadics, 3 Ursids)



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 December 22, 2016 there were 1752 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 YG

Dec 21

11.7 LD

28 m

2015 YQ1

Dec 21

6.2 LD

11 m

2016 YJ

Dec 22

1.2 LD

17 m

2006 BZ7

Dec 22

74.5 LD

1.4 km

2016 YS

Dec 23

3.9 LD

44 m

2016 YQ

Dec 23

12.2 LD

49 m

2016 YF

Dec 24

8.7 LD

35 m

2016 YR

Dec 27

7.2 LD

15 m

2016 YK

Jan 8

13.5 LD

80 m

2015 BB

Jan 18

13.8 LD

45 m

2002 LS32

Jan 24

53.9 LD

1.0 km

1991 VK

Jan 25

25.2 LD

1.9 km

2000 WN107

Jan 26

62.3 LD

2.8 km

2005 VL1

Feb 4

9.1 LD

18 m

2014 DV110

Feb 10

9.8 LD

45 m

2015 QR3

Feb 12

13.1 LD

31 m

2013 WT67

Feb 17

44.2 LD

1.1 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: 625.5 km/sec
density: 3.9 protons/cm3

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1944 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A7
1304 UT Dec22
24-hr: A8 0206 UT Dec22
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1900 UTDaily Sun: 21 Dec 16New sunspot 2620 is quiet and poses no threat for strong solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 15
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 21 Dec 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 28 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 21 Dec 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 75 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 21 Dec 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 3 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 5
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.6 nT
Bz: -1.2 nT south

more data: ACEDSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1943 UTCoronal Holes: 21 Dec 16
Earth is entering a stream of solar wind flowing from this large coronal hole. Credit: NASA/SDO.Noctilucent Clouds The southern season for noctilucent clouds began on Nov. 17th. Come back to this spot every day to see the "daily daisy" from NASA's AIM spacecraft, which is monitoring the dance of electric-blue around the Antarctic Circle.


Switch view: Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula, East Antarctica, PolarUpdated at: 12-21-2016 16:55:04

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Dec 21 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 Dec 21 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


40 %

25 %


25 %

10 %


05 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


10 %

15 %


25 %

25 %


60 %

35 %