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CHANCE OF STORMS THIS WEEK: NOAA forecasters estimate a 40% chance of polar magnetic storms on Feb. 7th when Earth crosses through a fold in the heliospheric current sheet--a giant rippling system of electrical currents in space. Not long after the crossing, perhaps on Feb. 8th, a stream of solar wind is expected to hit our planet's magnetic field. The source of the stream is a hole in the sun's atmosphere. The combination of these two events will likely spark bright Arctic auroras mid-week. Free: Aurora alerts.
GREEN COMET APPROACHES EARTH: A small comet named "45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova" (45P for short) is approaching Earth. At closest approach on Feb. 11th, the comet will be 7.4 million miles from our planet, visible in binoculars and small telescopes. This is what it looks like:
Michael Jäger of Stixendorf, Austria, took the picture on Dec. 31, 2016, just as the comet was swinging around the sun en route to Earth. Since then 45P's icy nucleus has been heated by solar radiation, causing it to spew brightening jets of gas into the comet's green atmosphere. Why green? Because the comet's vaporizing nucleus emits diatomic carbon, C2, a gas which glows green in the near-vacuum of space.
According to the Minor Planet Center, this is the 8th closest pass of any comet in the modern era (since ~1950, when modern technology started being used to study comets). It will only be 31 times farther from Earth than the Moon. Interestingly, 45P made an even closer approach on its previous orbit (23 lunar distances), so it is also on the list as the 5th closest.
Proximity makes the comet bright despite its small size. Forecasters say 45P could be on the verge of naked eye visibility (6th magnitude) when it emerges into the pre-dawn sky later this week. The best time to look is during the dark hours before sunrise between Feb 9th and 12th. The comet will be racing through the constellation Hercules high in the eastern sky. Sky maps: Feb. 9, 10, 11, 12.
Got a great picture? First, submit it to Spaceweather.com. Next, send it to the Planetary Science Institute, which is collecting amateur images to help professional researchers study Comet 45P. More resources: 3D Orbit, Ephemeris.
Realtime Comet Photo Gallery
FAR-OUT VALENTINE'S GIFT: Did you know that cosmic radiation in Earth's atmosphere is increasing? It's true. These and other findings of the Earth to Sky Calculus ballooning program are funded not by government grants or corporate donations. Instead, the students rely on crowdfunding. Or rather, bear-funding:
To raise funds for their ongoing research, on Jan. 31st the students flew a payload-full of these ursine astronauts to the edge of space. You can have one for $79.95. A space rose is included, too, pressed for safekeeping. Each bear+rose gift package comes with a Valentine's card showing the bears in flight and telling the story of their trip to the stratosphere.
More out of this world gifts may be found in the Earth to Sky store.
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
GREEN ACRES: During the weekend, a high speed stream of solar wind buffeted Earth's magnetic field, sparking bright auroras around the Arctic Circle. Markus Varik photographed the display from Trosmø, Norway:
"The horses were paying no attention to the auroras," says Varik. Apparently, they've seen it all before. Living outdoors, Norwegian horses probably witness more geomagnetic storms than any human observer. "They held very still for my picture, though."
A new outburst of green is expected on Jan. 7th and 8th when another stream of solar wind reaches Earth. Arctic observers (of all kinds) are encouraged to look up on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Free: Aurora alerts.
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
Realtime Airglow Photo Gallery
Realtime Sprite 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 Feb. 6, 2017, the network reported 8 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 February 6, 2017 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.
| ||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 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.
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