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QUIET SUNSPOTS: There are two large sunspots on the solar disk today. Both are quiet, with stable magnetic fields. NOAA forecasters say there is no more than a 1% chance of strong solar flares on Oct. 6th. Free: Space Weather Alerts.
AURORAS IN AN UNEXPECTED PLACE: Northern Lights ... in New Mexico? Believe it. A solar wind storm on Oct 3rd pushed the aurora borealis across the Canadian border all the way to down to the American southwest. By the time they reached latitude +33o, the lights were barely visible to the human eye, but photographer Brad Dwight was able to capture them in a 13 second exposure with his digital camera:
"Monday night I was at White Sands National Monument trying to shoot the Milky Way," says Dwight. "I was never expecting to catch any auroral activity so far south!"
In fact, auroras stray to southern latitudes more often than most people realize. Dimmed by distance from the poles, however, the lights are easily lost in the glare of the Moon and urban lights. Photographers taking long exposures of the Milky Way are then surprised to find the green glow photobombing their intended target. "That's what happened to me!" says Dwight.
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
THE INTERCONTINENTAL SWx BALLOON NETWORK: For the past 2 years, Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been launching "space weather balloons" to measure cosmic rays in the atmosphere. Regular flights over California show that atmospheric radiation is intensifying in response to changes in the solar cycle. Now, our monitoring program is going global. In recent months we have been developing launch sites in multiple US states as well as South America and Europe. This is what the International Space Weather Ballooning Network looks like in October 2016:
Recent additions expand our coverage north of the Arctic Circle (Sweden) and closer to the core of the South Atlantic Anomaly (Argentina). We also hope to add a site in Antarctica in 2018.
The purpose of launching balloons from so many places is to map out the distribution of cosmic rays around our planet. A single launch site is simply not enough to reveal the nonuniform shielding of our planet's magnetic field and the complicated response of our atmosphere to changes in solar activity.
Our first test of the network validated these ideas. During a 48 hour period from August 20th-22nd we launched 4 balloons in quick succession from southern Chile, California, Oregon, and Washington. The ascending payloads sampled atmospheric radiation (X-rays and gamma-rays) from ground level to the stratosphere over a geographical range of more than 10,000 km. Here are the results:
The curves show radiation levels vs. altitude for each of the four sites. Numbers in parentheses are magnetic latitude--a measure of distance from Earth's magnetic equator.
At a glance we can see that atmospheric radiation is a strong function of magnetic latitude. Washington State at +53o has more than twice the amount of radiation as southern Chile at -29o--despite the fact that the Chilean balloon flew into the outskirts of the South Atlantic Anomaly. Clearly, Earth's magnetic field provides very uneven protection against cosmic rays.
To explore these findings further, we are planning additional network launches every month from now on, adding new sites as often as possible. A launch from inside the Arctic Circle in January 2017 is highly anticipated. Stay tuned for updates from the Intercontinental SWx Balloon Network.
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
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. 6, 2016, the network reported 32 fireballs.
(31 sporadics, 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 6, 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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