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SOLAR MINIMUM IS COMING: For the 7th day in a row and the 94th day so far in 2018, the sun is blank--no sunspots. The featureless solar disk is a sign that Solar Minimum is coming. Indeed, it appears to be approaching even faster than forecasters predicted. How does this affect us? Ironically, weak solar activity boosts cosmic radiation in Earth's atmosphere--a situation that is expected to worsen in the years ahead. Free: Aurora Alerts.
APPROACHING GREEN COMET EXPLODES: A comet that could become visible to the naked eye in August has just exploded in brightness. Amateur astronomer Michael Jäger of Austria reports that Comet PANSTARRS (C/2017 S3) brightened 16-fold during the late hours of July 2nd, abruptly increasing in magnitude from +12 to +9. He took this picture of the comet's expanding green atmosphere shortly after the outburst:
"The gas cloud around the comet's nucleus is about 4 arc minutes wide," says Jäger. That means the comet's atmosphere is 260,000 km in diameter, almost twice as wide as the planet Jupiter. These dimensions make it a relatively easy target for backyard telescopes.
Comet PanSTARRS is falling toward the sun from the Oort cloud, a vast reservoir of fresh comets in the distant outer solar system. It has never visited the inner planets before, and, as a result, no one can say what will happen when its fragile ices are exposed to solar heat as it approaches the sun in August. Previous estimates of the comet's brightness max out at magnitude +4--that is, barely visible to the unaided eye from dark-sky sites. Additional outbursts could boost its visibility even more.
The comet was discovered on Sept. 23, 2017, by the PanSTARRS telescope on the summit of the Haleakalā volcano in Maui. PanSTARRS's primary mission is to detect near-Earth asteroids that threaten our planet. In the process,it sweeps up variable stars, supernovas, and comets like this one. With almost a year of data in hand, astronomers have been able to nail down the comet's orbit. Click on the image to launch an interactive 3D visualization from JPL:
Comet PanSTARRS is approaching the sun on a hyperbolic orbit--a narrow open-ended path that will ultimately fling it back to the outer solar system. At perihelion (closest approach to the sun) on August 15-16, the comet will be inside the orbit of Mercury, blasted by solar radiation at point-blank range. What will happen then? Stay tuned.
Realtime Comet Photo Gallery
TRANS-PACIFIC SPACE WEATHER BALLOON LAUNCH: No one has ever done this before. On June 23rd, Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus launched two space weather balloons separated by the entire Pacific Ocean. One balloon was released from Kawhia, New Zealand; the other from Bishop, California, more than 10,800 km away. These GPS pushpins show the balloons in flight:
The purpose of the unprecedented double launch was to measure cosmic rays in the atmosphere--specifically, to find out how they differ on opposite sides of the Pacific. We have been traveling around the globe for the past two years, mapping Earth's planetary radiation field with sensors carried aloft by helium balloons. New Zealand is now part of our monitoring network.
Launching balloons around the world runs up a big helium bill. To help pay it, the California team launched this iridescent crystal pyramid to the stratosphere:
You can have it for $149.95. The students are selling this pyramid and several others like it to fund the Earth to Sky ballooning program. Each one comes with a greeting card showing the pyramid in flight and telling the story of its journey to the edge of space. All sales support hands-on STEM research.
Far Out Gifts: Earth to Sky Store
All proceeds support hands-on STEM education
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
Realtime Noctilucent Cloud 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 Jul. 4, 2018, the network reported 95 fireballs.
(93 sporadics, 1 , 1 July Pegasid)
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 4, 2018 there were 1912 potentially hazardous asteroids.
| |Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:
|Asteroid || |
|2018 LR3 || |
|2018 NA || |
|2018 LT6 || |
|2018 LJ1 || |
|2018 MB7 || |
|2018 LQ2 || |
|2016 GK135 || |
|2016 NF23 || |
|1998 SD9 || |
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.
|2018 DE1 || |
| ||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 13% 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.
| ||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 |
| ||fun to read, but should be taken with a grain of salt! Forecasts looking ahead more than a few days are often wrong. |
| ||from the NOAA Space Environment Center |
| ||the underlying science of space weather |
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