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A NEW 9TH PLANET BEYOND PLUTO? Today, planetary scientists, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown of Caltech announced intriguing evidence for a Neptune-sized planet orbiting the sun beyond Pluto. Sedna and five other objects in the outer solar system are grouped together as if they are being shepherded by a larger body. That body, say Batygin and Brown, is a planet at least 10 times as massive as Earth traveling along an elliptical orbit more than 200 AU from the sun. This is the most persuasive argument so far for the existence of a "Planet X." Until someone actually sees the planet in a telescope, however, it's just a hypothesis. So let the hunt begin! The full story was published in the Jan. 20th edition of Science Magazine.
SOUTHERN CORONAL HOLE: High above the sun's south pole, a vast hole has opened in the sun's atmosphere. This is called a "coronal hole", and it is the deep blue-colored region in this image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory:
Coronal holes are places in the sun's atmosphere where the magnetic field opens upand allows solar wind to escape. White arrows in the image above show where solar wind is flying away from the sun.
Solar wind flowing from this coronal hole is expected to reach Earth on Jan. 22-23, with a 30% chance of minor geomagnetic storms when the wind arrives. Auroras will probably appear around the Arctic Circle, although their visibility may be mitigated by the glare of the nearly full Moon. Aurora alerts: text or voice.
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
SOLAR ECLIPSE BALLOON NETWORK: Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have developed a balloon payload that can photograph solar eclipses from the stratosphere. This sets the stage for a one-of-a-kind photography experiment: On August 21, 2017, the Moon will pass in front of the sun over the USA, producing a total eclipse visible from coast to coast. We will launch balloons to record the event from a dozen points along the path of totality:
Floating more than 100,000 feet above the clouds, the balloons will have an unobstructed view of the eclipse. From each of a dozen payloads, one camera will point up to record the sun's ghostly corona while another camera points down to record the passage of the Moon's dark shadow across the landscape below. When the eclipse is finished, we will combine the footage to create a unique video portrait of an eclipse sweeping across the American continent.
The payload has already photographed a partial solar eclipse in Oct. 2014: images. To test the payload under conditions of totality, a team of students and parents from Earth to Sky Calculus will travel to Indonesia six weeks from now to observe the March 9, 2016, total eclipse: animated map. Stay tuned for news from their expedition!
Readers, would you like to join the Solar Eclipse Balloon Network? Starting now we are recruiting teams of citizen scientists who we will train in the art of high-altitude ballooning to become members of the solar eclipse launch crews. Schools, scout troops, home school families and others are welcome to apply. This is a great way for novices to learn ballooning and to participate in authentic science. We will also be seeking sponsors for the 12 payloads. Contact Dr. Tony Phillips to register your interest.
Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery
MOONDUST-COLORED CONTRAIL: On Jan. 18th, Pete Lardizabal pointed his camera at the clear blue sky over St Johns, Florida, to photograph the waxing gibbous Moon. Just as he depressed the shutter, a plane flew by. Although the Moon was more than a quarter of a million miles behind the plane, the flyby appeared to kick up a plume of moondust:
Atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley explains what happened: "The turbulent exhaust stream of the 'moonside' engine is refracting and scattering light from the Moon, creating a 'moondust-colored contrail.' The trail can be seen crossing the Moon itself. Likely the other engine is producing an equally turbulent exhaust trail. However, its angular distance from the Moon's limb is too large for any lunar light to be scattered towards the camera."
The Moon will be full on Jan. 23-24. According to folklore, it is the "Wolf Moon." Monitor the realtime photo gallery for moonshots as more cameras turn toward the dusty orb in the days ahead.
Realtime Meteor Photo Gallery
Realtime Comet 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. 20, 2016, the network reported 19 fireballs.
(18 sporadics, 1 xi Coronae Borealid)
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 20, 2016 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
|Web-based high school science course with free enrollment