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WAITING FOR THE CME: A coronal mass ejection (CME) that left the sun on May 23rd could deliver a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field later today. So far, however, there is no sign of the lopsided cloud. A miss is just as likely as a hit. Stay tuned. Free: Aurora Alerts
DAYTIME CONJUNCTION: Venus is so bright, you can see it in broad daylight. Most observers, however, fail to notice it. The intense pinprick of white light can be hard to locate in a sea of bright blue. What you need is a guide ... or an airplane! On May 26th, Leo Caldas of Brasilia, Brasil, noticed Venus when a Boeing 777 flew past the 2nd planet:
"United flight 149 from New York to São Paulo flew over Brasilia--and right by Venus," says Caldas. "As this map shows, I was perfectly positioned to witness the plane-planet conjunction."
Venus is so bright because it is shrouded in a global blanket of acid clouds. They reflect more than 75% of the sunlight that falls on them. For comparison, the average reflectivity of Earth is only about 30% and the Moon 12%. Venus's reflectivity and proximity to the sun combine to make it shine in the skies of Earth 100 times brighter than a 1st magnitude star.
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
THE UNUSUAL ORBIT OF SPY SATELLITE USA 276: On May 1st, SpaceX launched a classified satellite from Cape Canaveral: USA 276. "Last night, it passed over my house glowing like a 3rd magnitude star," reports veteran satellite observer Marco Langbroek, who sends this picture from Leiden, the Netherlands:
"The mystery payload appeared alongside a number of other objects (including the classified Milstar 3 r/b)," he says. "It's getting crowded up there."
Immediately after its May 1st launch, USA 276 was a topic of much discussion among expert observers. "The launch azimuth seemed to suggest a 50 degree orbital inclination," says Langbroek. "That would be odd, so not everybody was willing to believe this." But now it is clear that USA 276 does have such an orbit.
As Langbroek explains in his blog, other military and reconnaissance satellites tend to have orbital inclinations clustered around 57 degrees, 123 degrees, 63.4 degrees or 98 degrees.
"An orbital inclination of 50.0 degrees, as shown by USA 276, is odd and unusual. The orbit of USA 276 is remarkably similar to that of the ISS, in fact, as shown by Ted Molczan in a private communication. The two can potentially even make quite close approaches, to within a few km."
Indeed, a close encounter could be in the offing. "I have found that on June 4, USA 276 will in fact be very close by when the SpaceX DRAGON CRS-11 supply ship is scheduled to arrive at the ISS--that is, if USA 276 doesn't change its current orbit before then. Observers in Europe might see the three objects close together in their evening twilight of June 3, with USA 276 some 15 degrees distant from the ISS."
No one knows if this is plan or pure coincidence ... or if the conjunction will even happen. One thing is sure: Observers in Europe will be watching. Stay tuned for updates.
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
THIS PENDANT HAS TOUCHED SPACE: The radiation monitoring program of Earth to Sky Calculus receives no support from corporate sponsors or government grants. Instead, we are crowd-funded. Or, to be more precise, bling-funded:
To raise money for more cosmic ray balloon flights, on May 6th the students launched a payload of these Northern Lights pendants to the top of Earth's atmosphere. You can have one for $79.95. Each piece of space jewelry comes with a greeting card showing the item in flight and telling the story of its journey to the stratosphere and back. They make great birthday and belated Mother's Day gifts.
More far-out gifts may be found in the Earth to Sky Store. All proceeds support atmospheric radiation monitoring and hands-on STEM education.
Realtime Comet Photo Gallery
Realtime Aurora 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 May. 26, 2017, 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 May 26, 2017 there were 1803 potentially hazardous asteroids.
| |Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:
|Asteroid || |
|2017 KH3 || |
|2017 KW4 || |
|2017 KH5 || |
|2017 CS || |
|418094 || |
|2017 KX4 || |
|2017 KJ3 || |
|2017 KJ5 || |
|2017 HV4 || |
|2017 KF3 || |
|2010 VB1 || |
|471984 || |
|441987 || |
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.
|2017 BS5 || |
| ||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 13% 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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