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CHANCE OF STORMS: NOAA forecasters estimate a 40% chance of geomagnetic storms on Dec. 9th, increasing to 55% on Dec. 10th in response to an incoming solar wind stream. High-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for colorful auroras after nightfall. Aurora alerts: text or voice
THE GEMINID METEOR SHOWER IS UNDERWAY: Canada's Meteor Orbit Radar (CMOR) is picking up echoes from the constellation Gemini. It's a sign that the annual Geminid meteor shower is underway. The bright pink "hot spot" in this CMOR sky map shows where Geminid meteoroids are hitting the atmosphere:
Geminid meteoroids are gravelly debris from "rock comet" 3200 Phaethon. They hit Earth's atmosphere traveling ~35 km/s (78,000 mph) and typically disintegrate about 80 km (50 miles) above Earth's surface. While many Geminids are faint, bright fireballs are not unusual. Indeed, NASA's all-sky network of meteor cameras recorded 10 Geminid fireballs over the USA just last night.
Hakan Bayindir captured this Geminid over Uludag, Bursa, Turkey, on Dec. 8th:
"This is a 15 second exposure I made using my Canon EOS 600D digital camera set at ISO 1600."
Photographers should take note of those settings because many more Geminids are in the offing. Meteor sightings will increase in the nights ahead as Earth plunges deeper into the debris zone of 3200 Phaethon. Forecasters expect peak rates to occur on Dec. 13-14, when dark-sky observers in both hemispheres could see as many as 120 meteors per hour during the hours after local midnight. Observing conditions will be nearly ideal because the shower peaks just a few days after the New Moon.
Stay tuned for updates and, meanwhile, listen for Geminid echoes in the audio feed from our live meteor radar.
Realtime Meteor Photo Gallery
SUN SWALLOWS A COMET: On Tuesday, Dec. 8th, the sun swallowed a comet. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spotted the icy vistor from the outer solar system making a headlong plunge into our star. One comet went in; none came out. Click to play the movie:
Heated by the sun at point blank range, the comet's fragile ices vaporized, leaving at most a "rubble pile" of rock and gravel scattered along its sungrazing orbit. Any remains are invisible from Earth.
The comet, R.I.P., was a member of the Kreutz family. Kreutz sungrazers are fragments from the breakup of a single giant comet many centuries ago. They get their name from 19th century German astronomer Heinrich Kreutz, who studied them in detail. Several Kreutz fragments pass by the sun and disintegrate every day. Most, measuring less than a few meters across, are too small to see, but occasionally a bigger fragment like this one (~10 m to 50 m) attracts attention.
Because of their common parentage, sungrazers often come in clusters. For this reason, it wouldn't be surprising to find yet another one in the offing. Monitor Karl Battam's Sungrazing Comet twitter feed for more sightings.
Realtime Comet Photo Gallery
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
Realtime Aurora 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 Dec. 9, 2015, the network reported 43 fireballs.
(28 sporadics, 10 Geminids, 5 sigma Hydrids)
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 December 9, 2015 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 |
These measurements are based on regular space weather balloon flights: learn more.
|Situation Report -- Oct. 30, 2015 ||Stratospheric Radiation (+37o N) |
|Cosmic ray levels are elevated (+6.1% above the Space Age median). The trend is flat. Cosmic ray levels have increased +0% in the past month. |
|Sept. 06: 4.14 uSv/hr (414 uRad/hr) |
|Sept. 12: 4.09 uSv/hr (409 uRad/hr) |
|Sept. 23: 4.12 uSv/hr (412 uRad/hr) |
|Sept. 25: 4.16 uSv/hr (416 uRad/hr) |
|Sept. 27: 4.13 uSv/hr (413 uRad/hr) |
|Oct. 11: 4.02 uSv/hr (402 uRad/hr) |
|Oct. 22: 4.11 uSv/hr (411 uRad/hr) |
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. Our measurements show that someone flying back and forth across the continental USA, just once, can absorb as much ionizing radiation as 2 to 5 dental X-rays. Here is the data from our latest flight, Oct. 22nd:
Radiation levels peak at the entrance to the stratosphere in a broad region called the "Pfotzer Maximum." This peak is named after physicist George Pfotzer who discovered it using balloons and Geiger tubes in the 1930s. Radiation levels there are more than 80x sea level.
Note that the bottom of the Pfotzer Maximim is near 55,000 ft. This means that some high-flying aircraft are not far from the zone of maximum radiation. Indeed, according to the Oct 22th measurements, a plane flying at 45,000 feet is exposed to 2.79 uSv/hr. At that rate, a passenger would absorb about one dental X-ray's worth of radiation in about 5 hours.
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 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 |
| ||the underlying science of space weather |
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| ||Web-based high school science course with free enrollment |
| ||the underlying science of space weather |