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SUNSET SKY SHOW: Mark your calendar. On June 15th and 16th, the crescent Moon will pass by Venus in the sunset sky, forming a beautiful conjunction in the constellation Cancer. Try to catch them before the twilight fades to black. When framed by cobalt blue, Venus and the Moon are extra beautiful. Sky maps: June 15, 16.
AN OUTBURST OF SPRITES OVER EUROPE: This weekend, a powerful mesoscale convective system (MSC) of thunderstorms over central Europe produced a furious outburst of sprites. "It was unreal," says Martin Popek of Nýdek, Czechia, a veteran photographer of the upward directed bolts. "I recorded more than 250 sprites in only 4.5 hours of observation! That's nearly as many as I typically see in the entire summer thunderstorm season."
Many of the sprites during the outburst looked like this:
This is a jellyfish sprite--so called because it resembles the eponymous sea creature. Jellyfish sprites are typically very large, stretching as much as 50 km between the tops of their heads to the tips of their tentacles below. "Regular jellyfish sprites are associated with very strong positive cloud-to-ground lightning strokes in the underlying convective storms," notes lightning scientist Oscar van der Velde of the Technical University of Catalonia, Spain.
However, not all of the jellyfish were regular. Some were "decapitated"--without heads. "I recorded about 20 sets of tentacles only," says Popek, who created this montage of highlights:
"In my experience, this is quite rare," he adds.
"It is rare," agrees van der Velde. "We don't know why they sometimes look like this." He speculates that atmospheric waves called "gravity waves" sometimes interfere with the normal formation of jellyfish, leaving them headless. "Mesospheric gravity waves likely help focus the electric field to trigger downward streamers," he says. "But note that sprite morphology is not fully understood--not even for regular jellyfish. We have a lot to learn."
Another observer in the Czech Republic, Daniel Ščerba-Elza, also photographed the display. "It was extremely active," says Ščerba-Elza. "I recorded about 69 sprites, much more than usual. The storms were about 250 - 300 km away in Austria and Hungary. This is a good distance because it allows you to see over the tops of the thunderheads." He made a summary video of the outburst.
Such an outburst before summer even begins may be a good omen for sprite photographers as thunderstorm season gains steam. Stay tuned for more sightings.
Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery
FATHER'S DAY SPECIAL: What do you get for the Dad who has everything? He probably doesn't have this: A 3D Moon globe laser-etched inside a crystal cube. And, oh yes, it has been to the edge of space:
The students of Earth to Sky Calculus flew a payload-full of these unique cubes to the stratosphere on June 3rd. You can have one for $149.95. They're selling them as a fund-raiser for their cosmic ray ballooning program.
Each Moon-cube comes with a unique gift card showing the item 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. Dad-satisfaction guaranteed.
Far Out Gifts: Earth to Sky Store
All proceeds support hands-on STEM education
MARS OUTSHINES SIRIUS: It's official. Mars is now brighter than any star in the sky. Last week, the Red Planet surpassed Sirius in apparent luminosity. If you wake up before dawn, you can't help noticing Mars burning through the morning twilight with a distinctive orange glow. This morning in Burgundy, France, photographer Jean-Baptiste Feldmann captured the planet shining over the castle Clos de Vougeot:
"It truly was brighter than any star in the sky," says Feldmann.
What's happening? Earth and Mars are converging for a close encounter--the best one in 15 years. On July 27th, Mars will be at opposition. Oppositions of Mars happen roughly every 2 years, but this one is special. It is a "perihelic opposition." Mars will be near perihelion, its closest approach to the sun. Perihelic oppositions also bring Mars extra-close to Earth.
The last time this happened was on Aug. 27, 2003, when Mars famously made its closest approach to Earth in almost 60,000 years. Around the world, people organized "Mars parties" to celebrate the extraordinary size and brightness of the Red Planet. This July will be almost as good with Mars only a few percent farther away than it was during its historic encounter 15 years ago. Between now and then, Mars will triple in brightness, outshining even the giant planet Jupiter. Stay tuned for that!
Realtime Mars Photo Gallery
GLOBAL COSMIC RADIATION MEASUREMENTS: For the past two years, Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been traveling around the world, launching cosmic ray balloons to map our planet's radiation environment. Our sensors travel from ground level to the stratosphere and bring their data back to Earth by parachute. Here is a plot showing radiation vs. altitude in Norway, Chile, Mexico, and selected locations in the USA:
Note: Data from Sweden and several other US states are omitted for the clarity of the plot.
We're about to add a new country to the list: New Zealand. On June 18th, a team of students from Earth to Sky is traveling to New Zealand's north island to launch 3 cosmic ray balloons in only 10 days. Soon, we will know more about cosmic rays above Earth's 8th continent.
Cosmic rays are, essentially, the subatomic debris of dying stars, accelerated to nearly light speed by supernova explosions. They travel across space and approach Earth from all directions, peppering our planet 24/7. When cosmic rays crash into Earth's atmosphere, they produce a spray of secondary particles and photons that is most intense at the entrance to the stratosphere. This secondary spray is what we measure.
The purpose of our mapping project is to study how well Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field protects us from cosmic rays. As the plot shows, the shielding is uneven. More radiation gets through to the poles (e.g., Norway) and less radiation penetrates near the equator (e.g., Mexico).
But there's more to the story. Our launch sites in Chile and California are equidistant from the equator, yet their radiation profiles are sharply different. Chile is on the verge of the South Atlantic Anomaly, which almost surely distorts the radiation field there. Our flights over New Zealand may shed some light on this, because our launch sites in New Zealand will be the same distance from the equator as the sites in Chile. Stay tuned!
Technical note: 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.
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
Realtime Aurora 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. 10, 2018, the network reported 35 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 10, 2018 there were 1912 potentially hazardous asteroids.
| |Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:
|Asteroid || |
|2018 LU2 || |
|2018 LG1 || |
|2018 LR2 || |
|2018 EJ4 || |
|2015 DP155 || |
|2018 LD1 || |
|2018 LK || |
|2018 LF1 || |
|2018 KC3 || |
|2017 YE5 || |
|467309 || |
|441987 || |
|2018 LD3 || |
|2018 LN2 || |
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 LJ1 || |
| ||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.
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