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GEOMAGNETIC STORM: A minor G1-class geomagnetic storm is underway on June 5th as Earth enters a stream of fast-moving solar wind. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras,especially in the southern hemisphere where darkening autumn skies favor visibility. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
VANISHING SUNSPOTS: Something interesting is happening on the sun. Yesterday, June 3rd, the sunspot number dropped to 0, and the solar disk is still blank on June 5th. Latest images from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory reveal no significant dark cores:
What does this mean? The solar cycle is like a pendulum, swinging back and forth between periods of high and low sunspot number every 11 years. Today's blank sun is a sign that the pendulum is swinging toward low sunspot numbers. In other words, Solar Minimum is coming.
The spotless state of today's sun is just temporary. Underneath the visible surface of the sun, the solar dynamo is still churning out knots of magnetism that will soon bob to the surface to make new sunspots. The current solar cycle is not finished. It is, however, rapidly waning.
Forecasters expect the next Solar Minimum to arrive in 2019-2020. Between now and then, there will be lots of spotless suns. At first, the blank stretches will be measured in days; later in weeks and months. Don't expect space weather to grow quiet, however. Solar Minimum brings many interesting changes. For instance, as the extreme ultraviolet output of the sun decreases, the upper atmosphere of Earth cools and collapses. This allows space junk to accumulate around our planet. Also, the heliosphere shrinks, bringing interstellar space closer to Earth. Galactic cosmic rays penetrate the inner solar system with relative ease. Indeed, a cosmic ray surge is already underway. Goodbye sunspots, hello deep-space radiation!
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
SPACE BALLS FOR FATHER'S DAY (JUNE 19th): What do you give the Father who has everything? Space Balls! A few days ago, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus flew a basket of space-helmeted golf balls to the edge of space, 36.3 km (119,000 feet) above Earth's surface on board a high altitude helium balloon:
After the balloon exploded, the balls parachuted back to Earth, landing in the volcanic tablelands north of Bishop CA. For $49.95 you can have one of these balls (space helmet included) along with a unique Father's Day card showing the balls floating at the top of Earth's atmosphere. The interior of the card tells the story of the flight and confirms that this gift has been to the edge of space and back again.
All sales support student space weather research. In fact, the balls pictured above were hitchhiking on a payload equipped with radiation sensors. We send the sensors to the stratosphere every week to monitor increasing levels of cosmic rays. Visit the Earth to Sky store to support this crowd-funded research.
THE EDGE OF SPACE IS TURNING ELECTRIC BLUE: NASA's AIM spacecraft spotted the first noctilucent clouds (NLCs) of the 2016 season on May 24th. Those first clouds were wispy and faint. What a difference a week makes. On June 2nd, a bright display of NLCs wowed observers across the British Isles. Matt Robinson sends this picture from Kielder Observatory in Northumberland, UK:
"The display started at 11pm and we could tell it was going to be a strong one," says Robinson. "It carried on and got brighter for a further 2 hours. If this is a sign of things to come, this NLC season is going to be one to remember."
NLCs are Earth's highest clouds. Seeded by meteoroids, they float at the edge of space more than 80 km above the planet's surface. Typically, NLCs are brightest in late June and July. A bright display in early June is a good omen indeed.
When noctilucent clouds first appeared in the 19th century, they were confined to Arctic latitudes. In recent years, NLCs have intensified and spread with sightings as far south as Utah and Colorado. This could be a sign of increasing greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere.
Observing tips: Look west 30 to 60 minutes after sunset when the Sun has dipped 6o to 16o below the horizon. If you see luminous blue-white tendrils spreading across the sky, you may have spotted a noctilucent cloud.
Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
Realtime Sprite 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 Jun. 5, 2016, the network reported 12 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 June 5, 2016 there were 1703 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.
| ||Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere |
These measurements are based on regular space weather balloon flights: learn more.
|Situation Report -- Oct. 30, 2015 ||Stratospheric 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) |
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.
| ||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 |
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