Space Weather Update: 02/26/2016
By Spaceweather.com, 02/26/2016
VERY QUIET SUN: Solar activity remains very low. Only a few small sunspots are visible on the solar disk, and none of them has the type of unstable magnetic field that harbors energy for strong explosions. NOAA forecasters say there is no more than a 1% chance of M- or X-class flares on Feb. 26th. Solar flare alerts: text orvoice
COSMIC RAYS CONTINUE TO INTENSIFY: Researchers have long known that solar activity and cosmic rays have a yin-yang relationship. As solar activity declines, cosmic rays intensify. Lately, solar activity has been very low indeed. Are cosmic rays responding? The answer is “yes.” Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been using helium balloons to monitor cosmic rays in the stratosphere. Their latest flight on Feb. 16th measured the highest values yet:
The data show that cosmic rays in the mid-latitude stratosphere now are approximately 12% stronger than they were one year ago.
Cosmic rays, which are accelerated toward Earth by distant supernova explosions and other violent events, are an important form of space weather. They can seed clouds, trigger lightning, and penetrate commercial airplanes. Furthermore, there are studies linking cosmic rays with cardiac arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death in the general population. Among patients who have an implanted cardioverter – defibrillator (ICD), the aggregate number of life-saving shocks appears to be correlated with the number of cosmic rays reaching the ground. References: #1,#2, #3, #4.
Why do cosmic rays increase when solar activity is low? Consider the following: To reach Earth, cosmic rays have to penetrate the inner solar system. Solar storms make this more difficult. CMEs and gusts of solar wind tend to sweep aside cosmic rays, lowering the intensity of radiation around our planet. On the other hand, when solar storms subside, cosmic rays encounter less resistance; reaching Earth is a piece of cake.
Forecasters expect solar activity to drop sharply in the years ahead as the 11-year solar cycle swings toward another deep minimum. Cosmic rays are poised to increase accordingly. Our next balloon flight is scheduled for Feb. 27th. Stay tuned for updates.
Bonus: Balloon flights to the stratosphere produce not only scientific data, but also beautiful imagery. A camera onboard the Feb. 16th payload took this picture from an altitude of 107,500 ft:
The photo frames two lakes in California’s eastern Sierra mountain range. Take a closer look. Crowley Lake, on the left, is crusted with large rafts of cracked ice. Mono Lake, on the right, is liquid blue. What’s the difference? Mono Lake is one of the saltiest lakes in the western USA, and that lowers its freezing point, allowing it to remain fluid even during the coldest months of winter. More high-altitude photos from our cosmic ray research may be found here.
PYRAMIDS OVER CALIFORNIA: People who pay attention to the daytime sky often notice a luminous ring surrounding the sun. It’s called an ice halo, caused by sunlight shining through ice crystals in wispy cirrus clouds. On Feb. 23rd, San Francisco photographer Mila Zinkova looked up and saw not one, but “four wondrous circles around the sun.” She quickly moved into the shadow of a totem pole and snapped this picture:
About 100 miles away in Ballico, California, Richard Sears witnessed a similar display. “I’ve been photographing sun halos here in California for years. I must say, this is the first,” says Sears. “I wonder what is going on here?”
The answer: The air was filled with tiny pyramids of ice.
Atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley explains: “These are magnificent and rare displays of pyramidal crystal halos. Ordinary halos are made by six-sided column- or plate-shaped crystals in high and cold cirrus clouds. Over California their ends were capped with pyramids. The pyramids always have fixed angles set by planes of atoms in the ice. Light passing through them form ‘odd radius halos‘ 9, 18, 20, 23, 24 and 35 degrees from the sun. On Mila’s image I can see a bright 9 degree ring, an 18 degree one and then a clump of twenty-something radius halos.”
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 Spaceweather.com.
On Feb. 26, 2016, the network reported 15 fireballs.
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 February 26, 2016 there were 1683 potentially hazardous asteroids.
Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid
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
Situation Report — Oct. 30, 2015Stratospheric Radiation (+37o N)
Cosmic ray levels are elevated(+6.1% above the Space Age median). The trend is flat. Cosmic ray levels have increased +0% in the past month.
Sept. 06: 4.14 uSv/hr (414 uRad/hr)
Sept. 12: 4.09 uSv/hr (409 uRad/hr)
Sept. 23: 4.12 uSv/hr (412 uRad/hr)
Sept. 25: 4.16 uSv/hr (416 uRad/hr)
Sept. 27: 4.13 uSv/hr (413 uRad/hr)
Oct. 11: 4.02 uSv/hr (402 uRad/hr)
Oct. 22: 4.11 uSv/hr (411 uRad/hr)
These measurements are based on regular space weather balloon flights: learn more.
Approximately once a week, Spaceweather.com 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 clouds, trigger lightning, and penetrate commercial airplanes. Our measurements show that someone flying back and forth across the continental USA, just once, can absorb as much ionizing radiation as 2 to 5 dental X-rays. For example, here is the data from a flight on Oct. 22, 2015:
Radiation levels peak at the entrance to the stratosphere in a broad region called the “Pfotzer Maximum.” This peak is named after physicist George Pfotzer who discovered it using balloons and Geiger tubes in the 1930s. Radiation levels there are more than 80x sea level.
Note that the bottom of the Pfotzer Maximim is near 55,000 ft. This means that some high-flying aircraft are not far from the zone of maximum radiation. Indeed, according to the Oct 22th measurements, a plane flying at 45,000 feet is exposed to 2.79 uSv/hr. At that rate, a passenger would absorb about one dental X-ray’s worth of radiation in about 5 hours.
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.
speed: 408.0 km/sec
density: 0.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1602 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B7 1000 UT Feb26
24-hr: C1 0951 UT Feb26
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1559 UTDaily Sun: 26 Feb 16Neither of these sunspots poses a threat for strong solar flares. Solar activity remains low. Credit: SDO/HMI
Sunspot number: 26
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 26 Feb 2016
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 0 days (0%)
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 26 Feb 2016
Current Auroral Oval:
Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 2 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 3 quiet
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 5.8 nT
Bz: 0.7 nT north
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1601 UTCoronal Holes: 26 Feb 16
A stream of solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole should reach Earth on March 1-2. Credit: SDO/AIA.Noctilucent Clouds The southern season for noctilucent clouds began on Dec. 13, 2015. It is expected to end in late February 2016.
Switch view: Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula, East Antarctica, PolarUpdated at: 02-12-2016 16:55:02
Updated at: 2016 Feb 25 2200 UTC
Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth’s magnetic field are given for three activity levels: active, minor storm, severe stormUpdated at: 2016 Feb 25 2200 UTCMid-latitudes