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EXPLOSION ON THE SUN: Yesterday, Feb. 24th at approximately 11:00 UTC, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded a spectacular eruption near the sun's southeastern limb. The blast was rooted on the backside of the sun, but some of the explosion's debris fell back to the sun on the frontside. Play the movie. Earth was not in the line of fire. Solar flare alerts: text, voice
ROCKET LAUNCH CREATES RED DAWN BLOB: One day after a Chinese rocket disintegrated brightly over the western USA, another set of strange lights appeared over the same region. This time it was NASA's doing. Before sunrise on Feb. 25th, a Terrier-Black Brant research rocket lifted off from White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico, carrying an experiment to Earth's ionosphere. Vapors released by the rocket created a luminous red blob in the dawn sky, shown here over Mesa, Arizona:
"I got up to put the garbage outside just before sunrise and swore I saw something glowing in the sky," reports photographer Jasper Nance. "I thought I was crazy so I ran inside to grab my camera. Once my eyes were dark adjusted there was no missing the huge red splotch just above where the sun might rise. I watched it for about half an hour until the sunrise was too bright to see it any longer"
Early-rising sky watchers as far away as Utah saw the cloud. Some likened it to the aurora borealis. Most were surprised by the apparition. Nance, however, correctly guessed that it came from White Sands.
The ionosphere is a layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where solar UV radiation knocks electrons off atoms and molecules. Plasma in the ionosphere is crucial to over-the-horizon radio communications, and also affects the quality of GPS navigation and other modern technologies. According to a White Sands press release, ground stations monitored the cloud to gather data on "natural wave-like structures referred to as traveling ionospheric disturbances."
CHINESE ROCKET RE-ENTRY (UPDATED): On Monday night, Feb. 23-24, sky watchers in the western half of North America witnessed a spectacular cluster of fireballs and meteors. We now know it was the re-entry and breakup of a Chinese rocket body, specifically stage 3 of the CZ-4B rocket that launched the Yaogan Weixing 26 satellite in Dec. 2014. Donny Mott photographed the glowing debris from Spirit Lake, Idaho:
Mott was watching a display of auroras around 10 pm local time when the fragments flew by. "It was super bright," he says. "You can see it breaking up in these 4 images I took 10 seconds apart."
Another photographer, John Arnold, caught the meteor flying over Craig, Montana: photos.
According to satellite tracking expert Ted Molczan, "there are confirmed sightings from Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, British Columbia, Alberta. The most southerly observation I have noted so far was from Scottsdale, Arizona; the most northerly from Didsbury, Alberta. That spans nearly 3000 km of the descent." Molczan has prepared a map of sightings along with the ground track of the decaying rocket body:
The re-entering rocket body traveled from south to north. One of the first sightings was made by NASA's all-sky meteor camera at the MMT Observatory near Tucson, AZ. "We caught the object just as it was entering the atmosphere," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. A movie shows the rocket body, apparently still in one piece, moving slowly across the sky as it brightens to magnitude -4 (about the same as Venus). By the time the rocket body reached the US-Canadian border, it was in many pieces. Molczan says "the approximate toe of the debris footprint (should any have survived to impact Earth) would be well into Canada."
Monitor the realtime photo gallery for more sightings:
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
SOLAR WIND SPARKS AURORAS: A solar wind stream continues to gently buffet Earth's magnetic field. On Feb. 23-24, a G1-class geomagnetic storm broke out, causing an outburst of auroras around the Arctic Circle. At the peak of the disturbance, Northern Lights spilled across Canadian Border into upper-tier US states including Washington, Montana, Idaho and, shown here, South Dakota:
"The lights were visible to the unaided eye and quite bright at times," says photographer Randy Halverson of Kennebec, SD.
The storm also sparked Southern Lights. New Zealand photographer Ian Griffin reports "an amazing night of auroras in Dunedin, Otago. We witnessed a display that lasted well over 4 hours with many pleasing beams and colors!" See his photos
More auroras could be in the offing. NOAA forecasters estimate a 35% chance of geomagnetic storms on Feb. 25 as the solar wind continues to blow. Aurora alerts: text, voice
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
Realtime Comet Photo Gallery
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. 25, 2015, the network reported 5 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]
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 25, 2015 there were 1551 potentially hazardous asteroids. 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.
| ||The official U.S. government space weather bureau |
| ||The first place to look for information about sundogs, pillars, rainbows and related phenomena. |
| ||Researchers call it a "Hubble for the sun." SDO is the most advanced solar observatory ever. |
| ||3D views of the sun from NASA's Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory |
| ||Realtime and archival images of the Sun from SOHO. |
| ||from the NOAA Space Environment Center |
| ||the underlying science of space weather |