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CHANCE OF STORMS: NOAA forecasters estimate a 55% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on July 29th when a solar wind stream is expected to hit Earth's magnetic field. Auroras will be muted, however, by the glare of the waxing Blue Moon.[forecast video] Aurora alerts: text or voice.
RADS ON A PLANE--THE ROUND TRIP: Many people think that only astronauts have to worry about cosmic radiation. Not so. Regular air travelers are exposed to cosmic rays, too. This week, Spaceweather.com's Dr. Tony Phillips and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus flew across the United States to conduct a transcontinental launch of space weather balloons. They took radiation sensors on board the plane to find out how many cosmic rays they would absorb during the flight. Here are the data they collected flying east:
Radiation levels in the cabin of the Airbus 319 (Spirit Airlines flight 640) tripled within ten minutes after takeoff, and were nearly 30 times ground level by the time the plane reached cruising altitude at 39,300 feet. Summing over the entire flight, the sensors measured about 1 mrem of radiation--similar to a dental x-ray.
There was no solar storm in progress. The extra radiation was just a regular drizzle of cosmic rays reaching down to aviation altitudes. This radiation is ever-present and comes from supernovas, black holes, and other sources across the galaxy.
The Earth to Sky team consisted of five people who sat in three different locations: First Class, over the wings, and in the back row. Would they all absorb the same dose? No. On this particular flight, dose rates were highest in First Class and lowest near the toilets in the rear. The front-to-back ratio was as high as 13%. This gradient is not understood; presumably, it has to do with the way cosmic rays interact with the plane's fuselage and fuel tanks.
Five days later, following a successful Transcontinental Balloon Launch, the team flew back to the west coast. Once again they flew on an Airbus 319 (Spirit Airlines flight 641), non-stop from Boston to Las Vegas. The results were similar:
As before, the First Class seats registered the highest dose of radiation--as much as 6% higher than the wings and rear of the plane. On this flight we added a second radiation sensor to First Class to confirm the effect. Both sensors agreed: ionizing radiation was slightly higher in the front of the plane.
Because cosmic rays come from space, radiation inside the airplane grows stronger as the airplane ascends. This plot shows how the dose rate changed as a function of altitude throughout the July 23rd flight:
Note how radiation levels remain low at altitudes below ~15,000 ft. Earth's atmosphere does a good job shielding those altitudes from cosmic rays. Above 15,000 ft, however, dose rates climb rapidly as the plane ascends.
The radiation sensors are the same ones that Earth to Sky Calculus routinely flies onboard helium balloons to measure cosmic rays in the stratosphere. They 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.
Tomorrow: Extreme Microbes Set High-Altitude Balloon Record
WILL THE MOON REALLY TURN BLUE? When someone says "Once in a Blue Moon," you know what they mean: rare, seldom, even absurd. This year it means "the end of July." For the second time this month, the Moon is about to become full. There was one full Moon on July 2nd, and now another is coming on July 31st. According to modern folklore, the second full Moon in a calendar month is "blue." Strange but true: Sometimes the Moon really turns blue. Scroll past the waxing full Moon, photographed on July 25th by Giuseppe Petricca of Pisa, Italy, for more information:
The blue areas in the color-enhanced image (right) are caused by titanium in lunar soil. [more]
A truly-blue Moon usually requires a volcanic eruption. Back in 1883, for example, people saw blue moons almost every night after the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa exploded with the force of a 100-megaton nuclear bomb. Plumes of ash rose to the very top of Earth's atmosphere, and the Moon became an azure-colored disk.
Krakatoa's ash was the reason. Some of the plumes were filled with particles 1 micron wide, about the same as the wavelength of red light. Particles of this special size strongly scatter red light, while allowing blue light to pass through. Krakatoa's clouds thus acted like a blue filter. People also saw blue-colored Moons in 1983 after the eruption of the El Chichon volcano in Mexico. And there are reports of blue Moons caused by Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and Mount Pinatubo in 1991.
Forest fires can do the same trick. A famous example is the giant muskeg fire of Sept. 1953 in Alberta, Canada. Clouds of smoke containing micron-sized oil droplets produced lavender suns and blue Moons all the way from North America to England. At this time of year, summer wildfires often produce smoke with an abundance of micron-sized particles–just the right size to turn the Moon truly blue. Sky watchers in western parts of the USA and Canada, where wildfires are in progress, could experience this phenomenon.
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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 Jul. 28, 2015, the network reported 46 fireballs.
(33 sporadics, 6 alpha Capricornids, 4 Southern delta Aquariids, 3 Perseids)
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 July 28, 2015 there were 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 |
| ||Web-based high school science course with free enrollment |