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QUADRANTID METEOR SHOWER: On Tuesday of this week, Earth will pass through a stream of dusty debris from shattered comet 2003 EH1, source of the annual Quadrantid meteor shower. Forecasters expect the shower to peak around 14:00 UT (6 am PST) on Jan. 3rd--timing that favors western parts of North America and islands across the Pacific. As many as 100 meteors per hour could flow from a radiant near the North Star on Tuesday morning.
FIRST AURORAS OF THE NEW YEAR: A solar wind stream hit Earth's magnetic field on New Year's Eve, igniting a beautiful display of auroras to kick off the New Year. "Last night's aurora display was unbelievable," reports Sarah Skinner of Lights over Lapland in Abisko, Sweden. "This is literally as it came out of the camera....yes it REALLY was that bright!!!"
"Thank you clouds for clearing just in time for the peak of the show," she says. "Happy New Year for sure!"
Another, more potent solar wind stream is heading for Earth. Estimated time of arrival: Jan. 4th or 5th. Arctic sky watchers should prepare for a new round of Northern Lights as well as G1-class geomagnetic storms when the solar wind arrives. Free: Aurora Alerts.
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
POLAR STRATOSPHERIC CLOUDS: Earth's stratosphere is normally free of clouds. Not this weekend, though. Observers around the Arctic Circle are reporting an outbreak of brilliantly-colored icy clouds in the typically dry and transparent layer of our planet's atmosphere. Eric Fokke photographed the display on New Years Eve from the Lofoten Islands of Norway:
These icy clouds are a sign of very cold temperatures. For ice crystals to form in the arid stratosphere, temperatures must drop to around -85º C. High-altitude sunlight shining through tiny ice particles ~10µm across produce the characteristic bright iridescent colors.
Once thought to be mere curiosities, some polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs) are now known to be associated with the destruction of ozone. Indeed, an ozone hole formed over the UK in Feb. 2016 following an outbreak of ozone-destroying Type 1 PSCs.
These clouds really are as amazing as they look in Fokke's photo. They have much more vivid colors than ordinary iridescent clouds, which form closer to Earth in the troposphere. Once seen, a stratospheric cloud is never forgotten.
Browse the gallery for more sightings as polar winter unfolds:
Realtime PSC Photo Gallery
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. 1, 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 1, 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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