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LONG RANGE FORECAST: A hole in the sun's atmosphere will swing into geoeffective position during the last week of March. Solar wind flowing from the hole is expected to strike our planet's magnetic field and spark G1- to G2-class geomagnetic storms on March 28-29. Arctic sky watchers should be alert for auroras in the waxing springtime twilight. Free: Aurora Alerts
SPOTLESS SUN SPARKS AURORAS: The sun has been blank for 9 straight days. However, the absence of sunspots has had little effect on auroras around the Arctic Circle as the solar wind buffets Earth's magnetic field. Last night in Abisko, Sweden, Carson Reid witnessed an hours-long display of lights with ribbons of green dancing among the clouds:
"Right after I took this photo, the lights intensified and I completely stopped taking pictures," he says. "All I could do is stare. It was amazing."
Reid is a member of Earth to Sky Calculus. This week he's in Sweden with a team of 6 other students launching space weather balloons into the Arctic stratosphere. So far they've launched 3 balloons in only 5 days. One of the balloons went up at night to photograph auroras from 100,000 feet. Did it work? The payload is still being recovered from the Arctic tundra. Stay tuned for results.
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
VENUS IS A SKINNY CRESCENT: On March 25th, Venus will pass almost directly between Earth and the sun--an event astronomers call "inferior solar conjunction." As Venus approaches the sun, the planet is turning its night side toward us, reducing its luminous glow to a thin sliver. Shahrin Ahmad of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, photographed the crescent on March 15th:
"Venus is about 17º from sun, and shining at only 4.7% illumination," says Ahmad. "This is my clearest view so far. "
In the nights ahead, the crescent of Venus will become increasingly thin and circular. The horns of the crescent might actually touch when the Venus-sun angle is least on March 25th. This is the most beautiful time to observe Venus--but also the most perilous. The glare of the nearby sun magnified by a telescope can damage the eyes of anyone looking through the eyepiece.
Anthony J. Cook of the Griffith Observatory has some advice for observers: "I have observed Venus at conjunction, but only from within the shadow of a building, or by adding a mask to the front end of the telescope to fully shadow the optics from direct sunlight. This is tricky with a refractor or a catadioptric, because the optics start at the front end of the tube. Here at Griffith Observatory, I rotate the telescope dome to make sure the lens of the telescope is shaded from direct sunlight, even through it means that the lens will be partially blocked when aimed at Venus. With our Newtonian telescope, I add a curved cardboard mask at the front end of the tube to shadow the primary mirror."
For the rest of this week Venus can still be observed without elaborate precautions. Point your optics at the Evening Star in the western sky after sunset. Even ordinary binoculars will show the planet's lovely curve.
Realtime Venus Photo Gallery
Realtime Space Weather 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 Mar. 16, 2017, the network reported 15 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 March 16, 2017 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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