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BE ALERT FOR NOCTILUCENT CLOUDS: The northern season for noctilucent clouds (NLCs) is about to begin. Glowing electric blue at the edge of space, the icy clouds appear over the Arctic in late May and last until August. Usually, NASA's AIM spacecraft is the first to spot them--but maybe not this year. Cora Randall, a member of the AIM science team at the University of Colorado, explains: "Currently, we are not retrieving cloud data. Because the orbit of the spacecraft has precessed, we are transitioning to a new way of pointing. We need a bit more time to settle the spacecraft pointing and hope to be back online by the end of May." Meanwhile, high-latitude sky watchers should be alert for NLCs; the season might begin before AIM is ready. [NLC photo gallery]
CHANCE OF STORMS THIS WEEK (UPDATED): NOAA forecasters say there is a 40% chance of geomagnetic storms this week, beginning with G1-class storms on May 16th, escalating to G2-class on May 17th. The reasons are twofold. First, Earth will be hit by a stream of solar wind flowing from a hole in the sun's atmosphere:
Image credit: NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory/LMSAL/Spaceweather.com
This is a coronal hole (CH)--a place where the sun's magnetic field peels back and allows solar wind to escape. Gaseous material streaming from the gap should arrive on May 16th, sparking G1-class storms.
Second, a coronal mass ejection (CME) is following on the heels of the solar wind stream. The faint CME left the sun on May 13th, heading slightly south of the sun-Earth line. NOAA computer models suggest that the cloud will graze Earth's magnetic field on May 17th. The combined action of the solar wind stream and the CME could boost storm levels from G1 to G2.
High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras, especially in the southern hemisphere where deepening autumn darkness favors visibility. Free: Aurora Alerts
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
COSMIC RAYS ARE INTENSIFYING: As the sunspot cycle declines, we expect cosmic rays to increase. Is this actually happening? The answer is "yes." Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been monitoring radiation levels in the stratosphere with frequent high-altitude balloon flights over California. Here are the latest results, current as of May 6, 2017:
The data show cosmic ray levels intensifying with an approximately 13% increase since March 2015.
Cosmic rays are high-energy photons and subatomic particles accelerated in our direction by distant supernovas and other violent events in the Milky Way. Usually, cosmic rays are held at bay by the sun's magnetic field, which envelops and protects all the planets in the Solar System. But the sun's magnetic shield is weakening in 2017 as the solar cycle shifts from Solar Maximum to Solar Minimum. More and more cosmic rays are therefore reaching our planet.
How does this affect us? Cosmic rays penetrate commercial airlines, dosing passengers and flight crews enough that pilots are classified as occupational radiation workers. Some research shows that cosmic rays can seed clouds and trigger lightning, potentially altering weather and climate. Furthermore, there are studies ( #1, #2, #3, #4) linking cosmic rays with cardiac arrhythmias in the general population.
The sensors we send to the stratosphere measure X-rays and gamma-rays, which are produced by the crash of primary cosmic rays into Earth's atmosphere. The energy range of the sensors, 10 keV to 20 MeV, is similar to that of medical X-ray machines and airport security scanners.
NOTE: This increase is not happening ONLY over California. All parts of the world will be experiencing elevated levels of cosmic rays. The amount varies from place to place depending on the uneven protection afforded by our own planet's magnetic field. In the days ahead we will share new data from intercontinental balloon launches tracing the global response to this phenomenon.
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 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
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. 15, 2017, the network reported 14 fireballs.
(10 sporadics, 4 eta Aquariids)
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 15, 2017 there were 1801 potentially hazardous asteroids.
| |Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:
|Asteroid || |
|2017 HP3 || |
|2017 JX1 || |
|2017 HU49 || |
|2017 JA2 || |
|2017 JR1 || |
|2017 JM2 || |
|2012 EC || |
|2017 CS || |
|418094 || |
|2017 HV4 || |
|2010 VB1 || |
|471984 || |
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.
|441987 || |
| ||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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