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THE END OF IRIDIUM FLARES: Backyard astronomers have long enjoyed the sight of "Iridium flares," supernova-like flashes in the sky caused by sunlight glinting from Iridium satellite antennas. Soon, these flares will come to an end. Earlier today, a SpaceX rocket launched the first batch of Iridium NEXT satellites, successors to the original Iridiums. They do not have the same antenna configuration and will not produce the same bright flares. Once the original constellation is de-orbited the flashes will cease. "I'm afraid those who've been tracking that phenomenon over the past 20 years have another year or two to see it," said Iridium CEO Matt Desch in an article from the BBC.
SOLAR WIND, INCOMING: A wide hole in the sun's atmosphere is spewing a fan-shaped stream of solar wind toward Earth. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory photographed the canyon-like structure on Jan. 14th:
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 600 km/s (1.3 million mph). The high-speed stream could spark G1-class geomagnetic storms when it arrives on Jan. 18-19. Arctic sky watchers, mark your calendars! Free: Aurora Alerts
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
ATMOSPHERIC RADIATION MONITORING: As the solar cycle transitions to a new phase, cosmic rays are penetrating the solar system in ever increasing numbers. Cosmic rays can seed clouds, trigger lightning, and penetrate commercial airplanes. This means it is increasingly important to monitor radiation in Earth's atmosphere. Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have developed a "Space Weather Buoy" to do just that. A peer-reviewed research article describing the device was just featured on the cover of the American Geophysical Union magazine Space Weather Quarterly:
Download the entire issue and scroll down to page 10 to read the complete article. It was co-authored by 12 students, most of whom were in high school when the research was done. Highlights of the article include a detailed description of the buoy as well as measurements of several radiation events over California in response to solar activity.
Our radiation monitoring program receives no support from corporate sponsors or government grants. Instead, we are crowd-funded. Or rather ... bear-funded:
Sales of Valentine's gifts like these space bears support our research. All proceeds support cosmic ray balloon launches and STEM education.
Get a pair for yourself. They're only $69.95--including the rose, which has been pressed for safekeeping. Each adorable duo comes with Valentine's card showing the bears in flight and certifying their trip to the stratosphere. More out of this world gifts may be found in the Earth to Sky store.
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. 15, 2017, the network reported 3 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 15, 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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| ||Researchers call it a "Hubble for the sun." SDO is the most advanced solar observatory ever. |
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| ||Realtime and archival images of the Sun from SOHO. |
| ||from the NOAA Space Environment Center |
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