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THE SOLAR WIND CONTINUES TO BLOW: For the third day in a row, Earth is inside a stream of solar wind blowing out of a large hole in the sun's atmosphere. This is causing magnetic unrest and bright auroras around the poles. NOAA forecasters estimate a 35% chance of G1-class geomagnetic storms on Dec. 24th. Free: Aurora Alerts.
WHITE AURORAS? Auroras are usually green. Occasionally, other colors appear: red, purple, blue. One color that never shows itself, however, is white--that is, not until last night. "I saw white auroras over Tromsø, Norway!" reports veteran observer Markus Varik. He recorded the phenomenon in this photo:
"I've been working more than 400 nights as a Northern Lights guide, and although sometimes I think I've seen it all, never I have witnessed white auroras like that," says Varik. "It was amazing to see it unravel white like that in front of my eyes. Pure magic!"
Auroras get their colors from specific elements in Earth's upper atmosphere. Green auroras, for instance, come from atomic oxygen; blue is associated with molecular nitrogen. No element produces white. So where did it come from?
An important clue: Elsewhere in Scandinavia, intense ribbons of pale pink appeared. Here is a specimen recorded by an automated auroracam in Abisko, Sweden:
Sarah Skinner, a tour guide with Lights over Lapland, saw the display: "OMG, it was the pinkest aurora ever!"
The 'white auroras' Varik photographed might actually be pink auroras filtered and paled by low-hanging clouds. Indeed, there is a strong hint of pink in Varik's photo.
Pink auroras are somewhat rare, but hardly unprecedented. They appear when energetic particles from space descend lower than usual, striking nitrogen molecules at the 100 km level and below. Look for more in the aurora photo gallery:
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
STUDENT CHRISTMAS SPECIAL: Is there a young scientist in your life? Give them the gift of exploration. For the holiday season only, we're reducing the cost of payload space on Earth to Sky Calculus balloons from $500 to only $299.95. Buy an edge of space gift certificate before Dec. 25th and you can send an experiment, photo, or keepsake item to the stratosphere, completely supported by an Earth to Sky Calculus launch and recovery team.
This is not only a great Christmas gift, but also a good kickstarter for science fair projects. Experiments will be flown and returned along with video footage, GPS tracking, temperature, pressure, altimetry and radiation data.
To take advantage of the discounted rate, payment must be received before Dec. 25th. However, the flight can take place at any time in the next 12 months. A Skype brainstorming session is included with each certificate. Dr. Tony Phillips and other members of the Earth to Sky team will chat with students to help them craft an experiment that will work in the harsh environment of the stratosphere.
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 Dec. 24, 2016, the network reported 8 fireballs.
(7 sporadics, 1 December Leonis Minorid)
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 24, 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 |
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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