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<<back forward>> -- News and information about meteor showers, solar flares, auroras, and near-Earth asteroids
Science news and information about the Sun-Earth environment.


Solar Wind

speed: 517.7 km/s
1.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2227 UT

X-ray Solar Flares

6-hr max:
B3 1525 UT Dec16
24-hr: B9 1325 UT Dec16
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2245 UT

Daily Sun: 16 Dec '03
Neither of these small sunspots poses a threat for strong solar flares. Image credit: SOHO MDI

The Far Side of the Sun

This holographic image reveals no large sunspots on the far side of the sun. Image credit: SOHO/MDI

Sunspot Number: 42
What is the sunspot number?
Updated: 15 Dec 2003

Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 4.4 nT
0.9 nT south
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

Coronal Holes:

A solar wind stream flowing from the indicated coronal hole could reach Earth on Dec. 21st. Image credit: SOHO Extreme UV Telescope.


Solar Flares: Probabilities for a medium-sized (M-class) or a major (X-class) solar flare during the next 24/48 hours are tabulated below.
Updated at 2003 Dec 16 2200 UTC
FLARE 0-24 hr 24-48 hr
CLASS M 05 % 05 %
CLASS X 01 % 01 %

Geomagnetic Storms: Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth's magnetic field are given for three activity levels: active, minor storm, severe storm
Updated at 2003 Dec 16 2200 UTC
0-24 hr 24-48 hr
ACTIVE 35 % 35 %
MINOR 10 % 10 %
SEVERE 01 % 01 %

High latitudes
0-24 hr 24-48 hr
ACTIVE 35 % 35 %
MINOR 15 % 15 %
SEVERE 01 % 01 %

What's Up in Space -- 16 Dec 2003
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DAYTIME JUPITER: Jupiter is bright enough to see in broad daylight--if you know where to look. Today you can find it using the moon as a "landmark." The quarter moon and Jupiter are only a few degrees apart. Scan around the moon with a pair of binoculars, and you might be surprised to see Jupiter pop out of the bright blue background. [sky map]

Above: The Moon and Jupiter on Dec. 16th. "The pair just barely fit inside the field of my binoculars this morning at 6 o'clock," says photographer Becky Ramotowski of Texas.

DUST STORM ON MARS: Something is happening on Mars. Recent images of the planet reveal widespread bright areas--the telltale sign of a growing dust storm. These, for instance, were taken by amateur astronomer Don Parker on Dec. 13th using a 16-inch telescope (details):

Images captured by Parker on Dec. 14th (image, details) and Ed Grafton on Dec. 15th (image) confirm the ongoing dust activity. So do photometric measurements by ALPO executive director Richard Schmude, Jr.: "Mars was about 0.17 magnitudes brighter on Dec. 15 at 2:30 UT," he says. "This brightness increase is due to the dust. Polarization measurements also indicate the presence of some dust."

Mars is dry, dusty and windy; small swirling dust clouds are commonplace. Sometimes, for reasons no one fully understands, these clouds begin to swell and combine into larger storms. Two years ago one grew until it encircled the entire planet. So far the ongoing storm is merely a regional one, spanning a fraction of a hemisphere. Will it continue to grow? Or dissipate? Probably the latter. Stay tuned for updates.

RAINBOWS AT NIGHT: We've all seen rainbows during the day. But what about rainbows at night? Thomas Thies of Gearhart, Oregon, photographed this one after sunset on December 8th:

"The rainbow, which lasted for about 20 minutes, was out over the ocean with the moon rising behind us," says Thies. And that's the key: the moon. Just as sunlight produces rainbows during the day, moonlight can produce rainbows at night. This is a picture of a lunar rainbow or "moonbow." (Note: the bright lights near the horizon are crab boats.)

"These are rare because moonlight is not very bright," notes atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley. "A bright moon near to full is needed, it must be raining opposite the moon, the sky must be dark and the moon must be less than 42 high. Put all these together and you do not get to see a moonbow very often! To the unaided eye they rarely show color because their light is not bright enough to activate the cone color receptors in our eyes."

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 are on a collision course with our planet, although astronomers are finding new ones all the time.

On 16 Dec 2003 there were 549 known Potentially
Hazardous Asteroids

November 2003 Earth-asteroid encounters


2003 UC20

Dec 2

32 LD

2003 XJ7

Dec 6

0.4 LD

2003 WY25

Dec 12

10 LD

Notes: LD is a "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.

Essential Web Links

NOAA Space Environment Center -- The official U.S. government bureau for real-time monitoring of solar and geophysical events, research in solar-terrestrial physics, and forecasting solar and geophysical disturbances.

Atmospheric Optics -- the first place to look for information about sundogs, pillars, rainbows and related phenomena.

Solar and Heliospheric Observatory -- Realtime and archival images of the Sun from SOHO. (European Mirror Site)

Daily Sunspot Summaries -- from the NOAA Space Environment Center.

Current Solar Images --a gallery of up-to-date solar pictures from the National Solar Data Analysis Center at the Goddard Space Flight Center. See also the GOES-12 Soft X-ray Imager.

Recent Solar Events -- a nice summary of current solar conditions from

SOHO Farside Images of the Sun from SWAN and MDI.

The Latest SOHO Coronagraph Images -- from the Naval Research Lab

The Sun from Earth -- daily images of our star from the Big Bear Solar Observatory

List of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids -- from the Harvard Minor Planet Center.

Observable Comets -- from the Harvard Minor Planet Center.

What is the Interplanetary Magnetic Field? -- A lucid answer from the University of Michigan. See also the Anatomy of Earth's Magnetosphere.

Real-time Solar Wind Data -- from NASA's ACE spacecraft. How powerful are solar wind gusts? Read this story from Science@NASA.

More Real-time Solar Wind Data -- from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory Proton Monitor.

Aurora Forecast --from the University of Alaska's Geophysical Institute

Daily Solar Flare and Sunspot Data -- from the NOAA Space Environment Center.

Lists of Coronal Mass Ejections -- from 1998 to 2001

What is an Iridium flare? See also Photographing Satellites by Brian Webb.

Vandenberg AFB missile launch schedule.

What is an Astronomical Unit, or AU?

Mirages: Mirages in Finland; An Introduction to Mirages;

NOAA Solar Flare and Sunspot Data: 1999; 2000; 2001; 2002; Jan-Mar., 2003; Apr-Jun., 2003;

Recent International Astronomical Union Circulars


Editor's Note: This site is sponsored by Science@NASA. Space weather and other forecasts that appear here are formulated by Dr. Tony Phillips. They should not be construed as guarantees of space weather or other celestial activity.

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