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METEORS FROM HALLEY'S COMET: Earth is entering a stream of debris from Halley's comet, source of the annual Orionid meteor shower. Forecasters expect the shower to peak during the night of Oct. 20-21. Typical Orionid rates of 20 meteors per hour will be muted somewhat by the light of the waning gibbous Moon. Got clouds? Listen to the shower live on Space Weather Radio.
CHINA'S NEW SPACE STATION IS NOW OCCUPIED: Yesterday, Oct 18th, Chinese astronauts onboard the Shenzhou 11 spacecraft docked with China's new space station, the Tiangong 2. Moments before the link-up, cameras on the Shenzhou 11 photographed the station's docking port as the two craft flew in tandem 250 miles above Earth:
This means there are now two occupied space stations orbiting Earth. The other one, of course, is the International Space Station (ISS). Compared to the ISS, the Tiangong 2 is small. Indeed, it nearly doubled in size when the Shenzhou 11 joined it. Linked together, the merged spacecraft will orbit Earth for the next month providing a home in space about the size of a double decker bus.
If all goes as planned, astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong will more than double the record for the longest-duration Chinese crewed mission, extending the mark from 15 days to 33 days. They will spend their time conducting science experiments and rehearsing procedures for future missions: Within a few years, China plans to start launching modules for a much larger Mir-class space station slated for completion in the 2020s.
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
THE NITROGEN FRINGE: A high-speed solar wind stream hit Earth's magnetic field on Oct. 16th, sparking in intense display of auroras over the northern reaches of Scandinavia. During the luminous outburst, an online aurora camera in Sweden's Abisko National Park recorded a lovely ribbon of pink rippling across the chilly night sky:
This is the "nitrogen fringe." Most auroras are green--a verdant glow caused by energetic particles from space hitting oxygen atoms 100 km to 300 km above Earth's surface. Seldom-seen pink appears when the energetic particles descend lower than usual, striking nitrogen molecules at the 100 km level and below.
"It was an incredible display of fast-moving pink auroras," says Chad Blakley, whose tour guide company Lights over Lapland operates the webcam.
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
HALLOWEEN AT THE EDGE OF SPACE: Looking for a unique Halloween gift? This one comes straight from the edge of space! To raise money for their cosmic ray research program, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have flown a dozen trick or treating bears to the stratosphere, more than 115,000 feet high:
You can have one for only $49.95. The bear and his sidekick pumpkin come with a greeting card showing the duo in flight and certifying that they have been to the stratosphere and back again.
More funky edge-of-space gifts may be found in the Earth to Sky store. All proceeds support cosmic ray balloon launches and STEM education.
Realtime Airglow Photo Gallery
Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery
| ||Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere |
Updated: Sept. 29 2016 // Next Flight: Oct. 1, 2016
Sept. 20, 2016: 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.
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 Oct. 19, 2016, the network reported 60 fireballs.
(38 sporadics, 17 Orionids, 2 epsilon Geminids, 2 Leonis Minorids, 1 Southern Taurid)
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 October 19, 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.
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