Space Weather Update: 01/23/2017
By Spaceweather.com, 01/23/2017
RADIATION CLOUDS AT AVIATION ALTITUDES: A new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Space Weather reports the discovery of radiation “clouds” at aviation altitudes. When airplanes fly through these clouds, dose rates of cosmic radiation normally absorbed by air travelers can double or more. [full story]
NEW SUNSPOTS MATERIALIZE: Reversing the recent trend of crashing sunspot numbers, two new active regions emerged over the weekend: AR2627 and AR2628. A 48-hour movie from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory shows their surprise emergence. The dark cores have grown so large, they are now visible in photos of the sunset, like this one captured on Sunday evening by Enrico Finotto of Treviso, Italy:
“I caught the new sunspots just as a plane was passing by–perfect timing,” says Finotto.
The sunspots announced themselves on Saturday with a flurry of minor C-class solar flares. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded this one (C9.3) on Jan 21st at 0726 UT:
During Solar Maximum, such a puny flare would not be mentioned as busy space weather forecasters tracked explosions 100x more potent. But now, with sunspot counts so low and flares so seldom, a C9 event is noteworthy.
If these sunspots continue to grow, solar flare activity could intensify. Stay tuned for updates.
CORONAL HOLE TURNS TOWARD EARTH: A hole has opened in the sun’s atmosphere, and it is spewing a stream of solar wind into space. An extreme ultraviolet telescope onboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory photographed the structure turning to face Earth on Jan. 23rd:
This is a “coronal hole” (CH)–a region in the sun’s atmosphere where the magnetic field opens up and allows solar wind to escape to escape. A gaseous stream emerging from this coronal hole should reach Earth on or about Jan. 27th. Arctic sky watchers, mark your calendars. Auroras are in the offing later this week. Free: Aurora alerts.
FAR-OUT VALENTINE’S GIFT: To raise money for their cosmic ray ballooning program, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have flown a payload-full of Valentine’s pendants to the edge of space–and you can have one for $89.95. Buy one this week and we will include a space rose free of charge.
Each glittering pendant comes with a greeting card showing the jewelry in flight and certifying that it has been to the stratosphere and back again.
More far-out Valentine’s gifts may be found in the Earth to Sky store. All proceeds support cosmic ray balloon flights and STEM education.
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 Jan. 22, 2017, the network reported 14 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 January 23, 2017 there were 1761 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
Readers, thank you for your patience while we continue to develop this new section of Spaceweather.com. 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, 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. 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.
speed: 428.8 km/sec
density: 1.5 protons/cm3
more data: ACE, DSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1516 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B1 1252 UT Jan23
24-hr: B1 0100 UT Jan23
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1500 UTDaily Sun: 23 Jan 17Sunspot AR2628 has a beta-gamma magnetic field that harbors energy for M-class solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI
Sunspot number: 61
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 23 Jan 2017
Current Stretch: 0 days
2017 total: 10 days (45%)
2016 total: 32 days (9%)
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 23 Jan 2017
Current Auroral Oval:
Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 1 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 2 quiet
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 3.8 nT
Bz: -0.5 nT north
more data: ACE, DSCOVR
Updated: Today at 1515 UTCoronal Holes: 23 Jan 17
Solar wind flowing from the indicated coronal hole should reach Earth on or about Jan. 27th. Credit: NASA/SDO.Noctilucent Clouds The southern season for noctilucent clouds began on Nov. 17, 2016. 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: 01-22-2017 20:55:02
Updated at: 2017 Jan 22 2200 UTC
Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth’s magnetic field are given for three activity levels: active, minor storm, severe stormUpdated at: 2017 Jan 22 2200 UTCMid-latitudes