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CLIMATE CHANGE AT THE EDGE OF SPACE: A hundred years ago, noctilucent clouds were an Arctic phenomenon. You had to travel to very high latitudes to see them. In recent years, however, the electric blue clouds have been sighted as far south as Colorado and Kansas. What's happening? A new study by researchers working with NASA's AIM spacecraft suggests an answer: It's climate change at the edge of space.
NIGHT LIFE IN ANTARCTICA: You'd think extreme cold in the dead of winter would keep Antarctic researchers inside. The staff of the Bharati Indian Base Station in Antarctica's Larsemann hills are an exception: "We can't stay inside," reports B. Sudarsan Patro. "The night life is just too amazing!"
Patro took this group self portrait on June 30th during a brilliant outburst of auroras. "They were so bright," he says, "the snow turned green. The sparkling display reminded us of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights." Spiritually, Diwali signifies the victory of light over darkness--very appropriate for a midwinter display of aurora australis.
This display shows that bright auroras can occur even when solar activity is very low. There were no sunspots, no solar flares, and no CMEs on June 30th, yet skies turned green anyway. Probably what happened is this: Earth passed through a region of space filled with negative-polarity magnetic fields (known to researchers as "negative B sub z"). Such fields can open a crack in Earth's magnetosphere. Solar wind pours in and sparks bright auroras--no sunspots required.
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
NOCTILUCENT CLOUDS: In the northern hemisphere, July is usually the best month for noctilucent clouds (NLCs). The electric-blue ripples are bright and widespread, sometimes sighted as far south as Colorado and Kansas. Right on cue, July 1st brought a magnificant display. Ruslan Merzlyakov sends this picture from Nykøbing Mors, Denmark:
"We witnessed an absolutely amazing apparition of noctilucent clouds in the first hours of July 1st," says Merzlyakov. "The whole horizon from west to east was filled with silver light and it was very bright!"
"I recorded short a video to give you a sense of what it looked like in real time," he adds. Play it!
NLCs are Earth's highest clouds. They float more than 80km above Earth's surface where diaphanous wisps of water vapor from the planet below wrap themselves around the ashy remains of meteoroids. The resulting ice crystals glow electric blue in the night sky when they are illuminated by sunlight at the edge of space. There is growing evidence that NLCs are spreading as a result of climate change.
Ready to see for yourself? Observing tips: Look west 30 to 60 minutes after sunset when the sun has dipped ~10 degrees below the horizon. If you see luminous blue-white tendrils spreading across the sky, you may have spotted a noctilucent cloud.
Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery
A WHOLE WEEK WITHOUT SUNSPOTS: The sun has now been without spots for more than 7 consecutive days. Visually, it looks like an enormous yellow billiard ball:
The last time sunspots vanished for a whole week was in Dec. 2010--a time when the sun was bouncing back from a long Solar Minimum. In this case, the 7 day interregnum is a sign that a new Solar Minimum is coming.
The sunspot cycle is like a pendulum, swinging back and forth every 11-years or so between times of high and low sunspot number. The next low is expected in 2019-2020. Between now and then sunspots will become increasingly rare with stretches of days, then weeks, then months of "billiard-ball suns."
Without sunspots, there will be fewer solar flares and CMEs. However, that doesn't mean space weather will stop. On the contrary, new forms of space weather will rise to the fore, including high doses of cosmic rays, more "space lightning" (sprites), altered states of ham radio propagation, and geomagnetic storms triggered by solar wind streams and co-rotating interaction regions instead of CMEs. Stay tuned for the next phase of the solar cycle. Solar flare alerts: text or voice
Realtime Space Weather 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 Jul. 1, 2016, the network reported 11 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 July 1, 2016 there were 1707 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. For example, here is the data from a flight on Oct. 22, 2015:
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 |
| ||Tobi -- Proud Supporter of Space Education! |
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