Ending 2016 With A Solar Bang!

What’s up in space?

HERE COMES THE SOLAR WIND (AGAIN): 2016 might get one more blast of auroras before the year is over.  Another stream of solar wind is heading for Earth, and it should arrive before New Year’s Eve. The wind is flowing from a coronal hole (CH) in the sun’s atmosphere, shown here in a Dec. 29th image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory:

The action begins during the late hours of Dec. 30th when a co-rotating interaction region (CIR) is expected to hit Earth’s magnetic field. CIRs are transition zones between slow- and fast-moving solar wind streams. Solar wind plasma piles up in these regions, producing density gradients and shock waves that do a good job of sparking auroras.

After the CIR arrives, a stream of fast-moving (600 km/s) solar wind will follow. The combined effect could produce G1-class geomagnetic storms and bright Arctic auroras on Dec. 30-31. Happy New Year!


URGENT BROADCAST!!! (11/18/16)


RUSSIAN SUN PILLAR: On Dec. 27th, Ras Sim of the Russian Urals spotted a beam of light shooting upward from the setting sun. “It was a fantastic sun pillar,” says Sim.

(Sun pillars are caused by ice in the air. Plate-shaped crystals ice fluttering down from cirrus clouds catch the rays of the setting sun and spread it into a vertical column.)

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

“Watch a leaf or piece of paper flutter and wobble as it falls,” says atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley. “Ice crystals in the air wobble, too, and this smears the sun’s reflection into a vertical line.”

All around the world, the atmosphere is cold enough 5 to 10 km high to produce these ice crystals. That means sun pillars can be seen anywhere. However, the odds of sighting one improve in cold wintry places like northern Russia. Residents of the north should be alert for these beautiful pillars as winter unfolds.

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

EVOLUTION OF A CORONAL HOLE: Christmas 2016 was special for sky watchers around the Arctic Circle.  The skies filled with some of the best Northern Lights of the year, including rare outbursts of white and pink. The source of the display: A giant “coronal hole” in the sun’s atmosphere sprayed our planet with solar wind. The hole opened up in July 2016 and it has been strobing Earth with solar wind every ~28 days ever since as the hole pirouettes with the slowly rotating sun.

Spaceweather.com reader Stuart Green has prepared a plot showing the evolution of the coronal hole and the effect it has had on the magnetic field at his private observatory in Preston, England.  Click on the image to inspect the full 6 months:

(Inset images come from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. The coronal hole is the giant dark region, starting small in July, then growing and shape-shifting as the year unfolds.)

The background strip chart recording shows the instability of the magnetic field around Green’s private observatory. When the coronal hole is facing Earth, big changes are measured.

“I’ve been recording geomagnetic activity over the past three years using a home built/ home designed magnetometer,” says Green. “The sensor is buried in my garden about 0.5m below the surface in an East/West orientation to allow very sensitive (sub nanotesla) measurements of magnetic declination during geomagnetic storms. The plots show the change in magnetic flux density in nanotesla occurring between readings every 2.5 minutes.”

Green’s presentation suggests that this yawning hole is a long-lived feature on the sun, and it will probably be back as potent as ever 28 days from now.  Stay tuned for magnetic unrest–and more Arctic auroras–in January.





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