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SOLAR FLARE AND CME: Southern sunspot AR1762 erupted today, June 5th, producing a long-duration M1-class solar flare that peaked around 0900 UT. The explosion hurled a right coronal mass ejection (CME) into space, shown here in a coronagraph image from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory:
Because the sunspot is approaching the sun's southwestern limb, the blast was not squarely Earth-directed. In fact, it might miss us altogether. Stay tuned for further analysis of the trajectory of the CME.
Meanwhile, more eruptions could be in the offing. AR1762 has a 'beta-gamma-delta' magnetic field that harbors energy for X-flares much stronger than the M1-class event that occured this morning. Solar flare alerts: text, voice.
NOCTILUCENT CLOUDS IN MOTION: The northern season for noctilucent clouds (NLCs) is underway. Since the middle of May, NASA's AIM spacecraft has been seeing banks of electric-blue NLCs circling Earth's north pole on a regular basis. Now, observers report that the clouds are spreading south. Pete Lawrence of Selsey UK photographed this apparition on June 3th (click to set the clouds in motion):
"I witnessed this fine NLC display on the morning of June 3rd," says Lawrence. "My location is 50.75N so it was amazing to see the clouds so far from the poles. As dawn approached, fingers of NLC spread until they were virtually overhead!"
Noctilucent clouds (NLCs) form near the top of Earth's polar atmosphere when water vapor from the planet below mixes with meteor debris from space. They appear during summer because that is when the mesosphere is coldest and most humid. This year, NLCs appeared early, more than a full month before the solstice, setting the stage for an unusually good NLC-watching season.
High latitude sky watchers should be alert for NLCs in the evenings ahead. In recent years they have been sighted as far south as Utah, Colorado, and Nebraska. Observing tips: Look west 30 to 60 minutes after sunset when the sun has dipped 6o to 16o below the horizon. If you see luminous blue-white tendrils spreading across the sky, you've probably spotted a noctilucent cloud.
Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery
[previous years: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011]
AURORAS IN THE USA: On June 1, Northern Lights spilled across the Canadian border into more than a dozen US states, turning the sky purple and green as far south as Colorado and Nebraska. Subscribers to the Space Weather Alert System (text, voice) knew the storm was coming, but others were surprised:
"Last night, I drove to Crater Lake National Park to photograph the Milky Way rising above the rim," reports Oregon photographer Brad Goldpaint. "I was staring upward towards a clear night sky when suddenly, without much warning, the aurora borealis began erupting in front of me." (continued below)
"With adrenaline pumping, I raced to the edge of the caldera, set up a time-lapse sequence, and watched northern lights dance until sunrise," he continues. "The moon rose around 2am and blanketed the surrounding landscape with a faint glow, adding depth and texture to the shot."
The source of the display was an interplanetary shock wave, which hit Earth's magnetic field during the late hours of May 31st. Forecasters still aren't sure where the shock wave came from. Current speculation focuses on a corotating interaction region (CIR)-a shock-like transition zone between slow and fast streams of solar wind. Whatever it was, the impact ignited some beautiful auroras.
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
Realtime Comet Photo Gallery