Spotless Days Current Stretch: 5 days 2019 total: 79 days (55%) 2018 total: 221 days (61%) 2017 total: 104 days (28%) 2016 total: 32 days (9%) 2015 total: 0 days (0%) 2014 total: 1 day (<1%) 2013 total: 0 days (0%) 2012 total: 0 days (0%) 2011 total: 2 days (<1%) 2010 total: 51 days (14%) 2009 total: 260 days (71%) 2008 total: 268 days (73%) 2007 total: 152 days (42%) 2006 total: 70 days (19%) Updated 24 May 2019
Thermosphere Climate Index today: 4.43x1010W Cold Max: 49.4x1010 W Hot (10/1957) Min: 2.05x1010W Cold (02/2009) explanation | more data Updated 24 May 2019
Geomagnetic Storms: Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth's magnetic field are given for three activity levels: active, minor storm, severe storm
Updated at: 2019 May 24 2200 UTC
Friday, May. 24, 2019
What's up in space
Special Offer: SAVE 600nok per person. Book a combination aurora borealis chase and scenic day tour during the months of September, October or November 2019 for the special price of 1800 kr. Check Marianne's webpage for details!
NOCTILUCENT CLOUD SEASON BEGINS: NASA's AIM spacecraft has spotted wispy patches of electric-blue drifting over the Arctic Ocean. This marks the beginning of the 2019 season for noctilucent clouds (NLCs). Soon, observers in northern countries will begin to see these night-shining clouds with the unaided eye. Get the full story and observing tips here.
A CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH THE TAURID SWARM: In November 2032, Earth will pass through the Taurid Swarm, a cloud of debris from Comet 2P/Encke that makes brilliant fireballs when its gravelly particles occasionally hit Earth's atmosphere. Previous encounters with the Swarm in 2005 and 2015 produced showers of bright meteors observed around the world; in 1975 the Swarm contacted the Moon, making Apollo seismic sensors ring with evidence of objects hitting the lunar surface. If forecasters are correct, we're in for similar activity 22 years from now.
Some researchers are beginning to wonder if there might be more to the Taurid Swarm than the pebble-sized particles that make fireballs–something, say, that could level a forest. On June 30, 1908, a forest in Siberia did fall down when a 100-meter object fell out of the sky and exploded just above the Tunguska River. Back-tracking the trajectory of the impactor suggests it may have come from the Taurid Swarm.
Trees felled by the Tunguska explosion. Credit: the Leonid Kulik Expedition
Why would the Swarm contain such big rocks? After all, comet debris is normally no bigger than specks of dust. The most popular theory holds that 10 or 20 thousand years ago, a giant 100-km wide comet fragmented in the inner solar system. The breakup produced a mixture of dust and asteroid-sized bodies that are still present today. Comet 2P/Encke itself may be just one of the fragments.
If the Taurid Swarm does indeed contain Tunguska-class impactors, the people of Earth need to know. A team of astronomers from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) suggests that this summer is a great time to find out.
"In June 2019 the Earth will approach within [0.06 AU or 9 million km] of the center of the Taurid swarm, its closest post-perihelion encounter with Earth since 1975," write UWO astronomers David Clark, Paul Wiegert and Peter Brown in a paper just accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. "This will be the best viewing geometry to detect and place limits on the number of Near-Earth Objects proposed to reside at the swarm center until the early 2030s."
To be clear, the team won't be looking for fireballs disintegrating in Earth's atmosphere. Instead, they want to point powerful telescopes at the Swarm, peering deep inside it to see if they can find big, dangerous pieces of rock gliding among the pebbles.
"Seeing anything in the Taurid Swarm will be tough," says Wiegert. "It's faint, it's spread across a lot of sky, and it's moving fast. A fair dash of serendipity will be needed to catch a glimpse of it. But we have to try to strike when the iron is hot, and that's now."
"We've applied for 10 hours of time on the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope atop Mauna Kea," he adds. "And we're hoping other big telescopes will join the search as well."
FAR-OUT FATHER'S DAY GIFT: Father's Day is only 3 weeks away. Is your dad a Trekkie? Here's a gift to make him live long and prosper. The students of Earth to Sky Calculus launched the Enterprise to the stratosphere. Riding onboard a high-altitude cosmic ray balloon, the laser-etched crystal spaceship traveled 34.7 km (113,845 feet) above Earth's surface:
You can have it for $149.95. The students are selling the Enterprise to support their cosmic ray ballooning program. Each starship comes with a greeting card showing the item in flight and telling the story of its journey to the edge of space. Also included is a multi-colored LED stand. This creates a colorful visual effect and allows the Enterprise to be used as a far-out night light.
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 May. 24, 2019, the network reported 12 fireballs. (12 sporadics)
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]
Near Earth Asteroids
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 May 24, 2019 there were 1983 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
SOMETHING NEW! We have developed a new predictive model of aviation radiation. It's called E-RAD--short for Empirical RADiation model. We are constantly flying radiation sensors onboard airplanes over the US and and around the world, so far collecting more than 22,000 gps-tagged radiation measurements. Using this unique dataset, we can predict the dosage on any flight over the USA with an error no worse than 15%.
E-RAD lets us do something new: Every day we monitor approximately 1400 flights criss-crossing the 10 busiest routes in the continental USA. Typically, this includes more than 80,000 passengers per day. E-RAD calculates the radiation exposure for every single flight.
The Hot Flights Table is a daily summary of these calculations. It shows the 5 charter flights with the highest dose rates; the 5 commercial flights with the highest dose rates; 5 commercial flights with near-average dose rates; and the 5 commercial flights with the lowest dose rates. Passengers typically experience dose rates that are 20 to 70 times higher than natural radiation at sea level.
To measure radiation on airplanes, we use the same sensors we fly to the stratosphere onboard Earth to Sky Calculus cosmic ray balloons: neutron bubble chambers and X-ray/gamma-ray Geiger tubes sensitive to energies between 10 keV and 20 MeV. These energies span the range of medical X-ray machines and airport security scanners.
Column definitions: (1) The flight number; (2) The maximum dose rate during the flight, expressed in units of natural radiation at sea level; (3) The maximum altitude of the plane in feet above sea level; (4) Departure city; (5) Arrival city; (6) Duration of the flight.
SPACE WEATHER BALLOON DATA: 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 18% since 2015:
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.
En route to the stratosphere, our sensors also pass through aviation altitudes:
In this plot, 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.
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.
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.