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SOLAR MINIMUM DEEPENS: The sun has been without sunspots for 33 of the past 34 days. To find a similar stretch of blank suns, you have to go back to 2009 when the sun was experiencing the deepest solar minimum in a century. Solar minimum has returned, bringing extra cosmic rays, long-lasting holes in the sun's atmosphere, and strangely pink auroras. Free: Aurora alerts.
ATMOSPHERIC RADIATION UPDATE: As the sunspot cycle declines, we expect cosmic rays to increase. Is this actually happening? The answer is "yes." Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been monitoring cosmic radiation in the atmosphere with frequent high-altitude balloon flights over California. Here are the latest results, current as of July 2018:
Above: X-ray/gamma-ray dose rates in the stratosphere over California. Energy range: 10 keV - 20 MeV
The data show radiation levels intensifying with an approximately 18% increase in monthly averages since March 2015. This comes as sunspot counts have dipped to a ~10-year low in June and July 2018.
Cosmic rays are the subatomic debris of dying stars, accelerated to nearly light speed by supernova explosions. They travel across the galaxy 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.
Above: An artist's rendering of secondary cosmic rays. [more]
Sunspots and cosmic rays have a yin-yang relationship. At the peak of the sunspot cycle, strong solar magnetic fields and solar wind hold many cosmic rays at bay. During solar minimum, however, the sun's magnetic field weakens and the outward pressure of the solar wind decreases. This allows more cosmic rays from deep space to penetrate the inner solar system and our planet's atmosphere.
The increase is widespread. Every place in the USA where we have launched multiple balloons exhibits the same pattern. There are upward trends from coast to coast:
The plot, above, shows more than 150 stratospheric radiation measurements we have made using balloons flown over the continental USA. Because California is our home base, it is more densely sampled than other states. Adding additional points outside California remains a key goal of the monitoring program.
How do cosmic rays affect us? Cosmic rays penetrate commercial airlines, dosing passengers and flight crews so much that pilots are classified as occupational radiation workers by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP). According to a recent study from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, flight attendants face an elevated risk of cancer compared to members of the general population. The investigators listed cosmic rays among several risk factors. Weather and climate may also be affected, with some research linking cosmic rays to to the formation of clouds and lightning.
In August-December 2018 we will conduct a new campaign of coordinated balloon launches from the USA (including sites in California, Washington, Kansas, Oregon, and Maine), Chile, and New Zealand to further probe the evolving cosmic ray situation. As solar activity declines we expect to find increasing radiation around the globe. Stay tuned for updates.
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
FLY ME TO THE MOONSTONE: Are you looking for a far-out gift? Nothing says "I love you" like a moonstone from the edge of space. On June 12th, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus flew this moonstone wrapped in a sterling silver Celtic love knot 34.1 km (111,877 feet) above Earth's surface:
You can have it for $119.95. The students are selling these pendants to support their cosmic ray ballooning program. Each one comes with a greeting card showing the item in flight and telling the story of its journey to the edge of space. Sales support the Earth to Sky Calculus cosmic ray ballooning program and hands-on STEM research.
Far Out Gifts: Earth to Sky Store
All sales support hands-on STEM education
Realtime Lunar Eclipse 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. 31, 2018, the network reported 50 fireballs.
(48 sporadics, 1 Perseid, 1 Piscis Austrinid)
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 31, 2018 there were 1912 potentially hazardous asteroids.
| |Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:
|Asteroid || |
|2018 NR1 || |
|2018 OZ || |
|2018 LQ2 || |
|2016 GK135 || |
|2016 NF23 || |
|1998 SD9 || |
|2018 DE1 || |
|2001 RQ17 || |
|2015 FP118 || |
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.
|2017 SL16 || |
| ||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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