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CHANCE OF STORMS THIS WEEK: NOAA forecasters say there is 70% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on Jan. 18th when a fast-moving stream of solar wind hits Earth's magnetic field. The Arctic light show, however, could begin even earlier. A co-rotating interaction region (CIR) just in front of the solar wind stream is expected to reach Earth during the late hours of Jan 17th. CIRs are transition zones between slow- and fast-moving solar wind. They contain density gradients and shock waves that often spark auroras. Free: Aurora Alerts
The incoming stream of solar wind is flowing from a large hole in the sun's atmosphere. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory photographed the crescent-shaped structure directly facing Earth on Jan. 17th:
This is a "coronal hole" (CH)--a region where the sun's magnetic field opens up and allows solar wind to escape. Material is flowing from this coronal hole at speeds exceeding 650 km/s (1.5 million mph).
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
COSMIC RAYS ARE INTENSIFYING: A neutron monitor at the South Pole is detecting an upswing in cosmic rays penetrating Earth's atmosphere. Here are the data, courtesy of the University of Delaware's Bartol Research Institute:
This is a sign of changing times on the sun. The solar cycle is shifting from Solar Maximum to Solar Minimum. As the sun's magnetic field weakens, cosmic rays are having an easier time penetrating the inner solar system. Earth is in the cross-hairs of these high-energy particles.
To find out if cosmic rays are also surging in the atmosphere at mid-latitudes, on Jan. 15th, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus launched a space weather balloon from the shores of Mono Lake in central California. At the time of the launch, the lake was wrapped in a cloud of rare fog called "Poconip" that coated every surface with feathery ice crystals:
The payload has landed at 10,400 feet elevation on the slopes of Mount Basin near Bishop CA. National Jr. snowboarding champion Carson Reid, a longtime member of Earth to Sky, will lead the recovery expedition on Wednesday. Stay tuned for results!
Our radiation monitoring program receives no support from corporate sponsors or government grants. Instead, we are crowd-funded. To that end, we offer for your consideration a truly far-out Valentine's gift:
On Dec. 18, 2016, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus flew 30 of these pendants to the stratosphere. You can have one for $69.95--including the rose, which has been pressed for safekeeping. Each order comes with a Valentine's card showing the pendant+rose in flight and telling the story of their trip to the stratosphere.
More out of this world gifts may be found in the Earth to Sky store. All proceeds support cosmic ray balloon flights and STEM education.
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
Realtime Airglow Photo Gallery
Realtime Sprite 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 Jan. 17, 2017, the network reported 6 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 January 17, 2017 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.
| ||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 12% 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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