Aurora from space


Sun & Space Weather News 2006

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12/15/06   What do Arizona and Alaska have in common? Northern Lights appeared over both states on Dec. 14th when a coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth, sparking a severe geomagnetic storm. The spectacular display is documented in a new photo gallery at

Another coronal mass ejection (CME) is on the way and due to arrive on Dec. 16th. This CME is not heading directly for Earth, and so it will deliver only a glancing blow. Nevertheless, NOAA forecasters estimate a 50% chance of severe geomagnetic storms. Sky watchers should remain alert for more auroras.


12/13/06   X-FLARE: Sunspot 930 erupted again this morning, producing a strong X3-class solar flare. The blast triggered an ongoing radiation storm and probably hurled a coronal mass ejection (CME) toward Earth. Auroras are possible when the CME arrives on Dec. 14th or 15th.

Note: The radiation storm mentioned above is of moderate intensity and, unless it strengthens greatly, poses no threat to astronauts orbiting Earth onboard the International Space Station or the space shuttle. The astronauts are protected by the walls of their spacecraft as well as by Earth's magnetic field.


12/7/06   SOLAR ACTIVITY: Big sunspot 930 continues to be a source of strong solar activity. The active region has produced two X-class flares and several lesser flares since it appeared only two days ago. Forecasters estimate a 50% chance of another X-flare during the next 24 hours.

Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) hurled into space by the blasts of Dec. 5th and 6th will not hit Earth head-on. Why not? Because the sunspot was near the sun's eastern limb and thus not facing Earth at the time of the explosions. However, we could experience glancing blows from the CMEs, producing high-latitude geomagnetic storms in the nights ahead. Northern sky watchers should remain alert for auroras.

Visit to view photographs of the recent explosions and to listen to radio sounds from the X6-flare of Dec. 6th.
12/5/06   MAJOR SOLAR FLARE: Earth-orbiting satellites detected a powerful X-class solar flare this morning, Dec. 5th, at 10:35 Universal Time. The source: big, new sunspot 929, which is emerging over the Sun's eastern limb. Because of the sunspot's position near the limb, this flare was not Earth-directed. Future eruptions could be, however, because the Sun's spin is turning the spot toward Earth. Sunspot 929 will be visible for the next two weeks as it glides across the solar disk.

Please visit for more information and updates.
11/28/06   STRANGE SUNSPOT: A strange-looking sunspot is emerging on the sun. It's shaped like a ring almost three times wider than Earth. Amateur astronomers with solar telescopes are encouraged to monitor this curious apparition. It may be little more than a novelty--but its definitely worth watching.

10/13/06   AURORA WATCH: (Oct 13 at 1800 UT) Earth is entering a solar wind stream that could spark a mild geomagnetic storm tonight. Sky watchers in Alaska, Canada and Scandinavia should be alert for auroras.

10/1/06   AURORA WATCH: A solar wind stream hit Earth this weekend. The resulting geomagnetic storm was not very strong; nevertheless, auroras were photographed as far south as Wisconsin and Michigan in the United States. Meanwhile, another solar wind stream is coming and may spark a similar display on Oct. 3rd or 4th. Stay tuned to for photos and forecasts.
9/18/06   SPACESHIP SILHOUETTES: The space shuttle Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station yesterday. In a moment of cosmic coincidence, an amateur astronomer in France caught the two spacecraft separating just as they passed in front of the sun. His unusual photo, entitled "Spaceship Silhouettes", may be found on today's edition of
9/18/06   SOLAR ECLIPSE: On Friday, Sept. 22nd, the Moon's shadow will cut across Earth, producing an annular ("ring of fire") solar eclipse. Unfortunately, most of the eclipse takes place over uninhabited ocean, but sky watchers in South America and Africa will be able to see at least a fraction of the display. Visit for timetables and animated maps of the eclipse.
9/1/06   With astronauts returning to the Moon, reliable forecasts of space weather are more important than ever. A new proposed mission called "Solar Sentinels" would surround the sun with spacecraft to keep an eye on solar activity.


8/25/06   ANOTHER BACKWARD SUNSPOT: Evidence continues to mount that the next solar cycle is beginning. When one solar cycle gives way to another, the magnetic poles of sunspots reverse polarity. For the second time in less than a month, such a "backward sunspot" has appeared--and this time it's a big one. Get the full story with images at
8/17/06   AURORA WATCH: An explosion on the sun yesterday (Aug. 16) hurled a coronal mass ejection (CME) toward Earth. The approaching cloud could spark a geomagnetic storm when it arrives, probably on August 18th. Sky watchers should be alert for auroras.

If a storm erupts, the best displays will be at higher latitudes: e.g., Alaska, Canada, and Scandinavia. However, auroras could descend to lower latitudes, too, spreading across northern-tier US states from Maine to Washington and elsewhere.

Sometimes during a geomagnetic storm, the sky appears to be blank--no auroras. The display may be too faint to see with the unaided eye. Try using your camera: a 15+ second exposure can reveal colorful auroras just below the threshold of naked-eye visibility. An example of "photographic auroras" over Colorado may be found in our most recent aurora gallery:

Please visit for pictures of the August 16th explosion and updates about the incoming CME.

8/15/06   A strange little sunspot noticed by astronomers on July 31st may herald the coming of an unusually stormy solar cycle.


8/10/06   PERSEID FIREBALLS: With the Moon glaring in the background, this weekend's Perseid meteor shower is supposed to be a dud. But maybe it won't be so bad after all. Observers have been seeing some bright, early Perseids beaming through the moonlight. One such fireball is featured on today's edition of along with a 2006 Perseid observing calendar and links to meteor radars.
8/10/06   NEW SUNSPOT: A large and beautiful new sunspot is emerging from the sun's eastern limb. So far it poses no threat for Earth-directed solar flares, but this could change. The spot is growing fast and turning toward Earth. Visit for images and updates.
8/7/06   When the Perseid meteor shower peaks on August 12th, the nearly-full Moon is probably going to spoil the show. But there might be something to see before the Moon rises: a side-show of Perseid Earthgrazers.

8/7/06   AURORA SURPRISE: A solar wind stream hit Earth this morning, sparking a geomagnetic storm. The arrival of the stream was unexpected, but the auroras it produced were a pleasant surprise. Bright, colorful lights appeared over Canada, while "photographic auroras" descended as far south as Colorado. See pictures of the event at
7/25/06   This week, Earth is passing through a meteoroid stream from--where? Its source is unknown. Every year in late July, the mystery stream produces a mild but pretty meteor shower, the Southern Delta Aquarids. The best time to look is Friday morning, July 28th. These meteors tend to be faint, so dark country skies are recommended.


7/21/06   Yesterday on the sun, a magnetic filament snapped. The resulting explosion hurled a CME into space and sent beautiful waves of energy surging through the sun's atmosphere. Although the CME is not heading directly for Earth, the outskirts of the cloud might brush against Earth's magnetic field on July 23rd, causing a mild geomagnetic storm.

Visit to view movies of the eruption and for updates about the approaching CME.

7/6/06   Big sunspot 898 is breaking apart, sending shock waves through the sun's atmosphere and radio bursts toward Earth. You can listen to some of the radio sounds at . The breakup does not herald a major solar storm, but it does offer an opportunity to watch a sunspot in its death throes--very entertaining.


6/28/06   NEW SUNSPOTS: After several days of utter spotlessless, the face of the Sun is changing. Two new sunspots have emerged: one is large and the other is growing with wild abandon. It's a good show for solar observers. So far neither 'spot poses a threat for strong solar flares, but this could change if the rapid growth continues.


6/26/06   ASTEROID FLYBY: One week from today, on July 3rd, asteroid 2004 XP14 will fly past Earth barely farther away than the Moon. There's no danger of a collision, just a great photo-op for experienced amateur astronomers. The space rock is big enough (600 meters wide) and bright enough (11th magnitude) to see and photograph through backyard telescopes. Observing tips, a sky map and ephemerides are available at
6/16/06   NORWEGIAN FIREBALL: A spectacular fireball that flew over Norway last week, causing sonic booms and making the ground shake when a meteorite presumably hit the ground, was not quite as spectacular as first reported. Researchers now estimate the kinetic energy of the event as 300 tons of TNT, far short of the Hiroshima-like blast described in some news reports.

Space rocks with this much energy hit Earth more often than is commonly supposed--once a month or so. Most go unnoticed because they enter the atmosphere over uninhabited stretches of our planet, or during broad daylight when fireballs are difficult to see, or at late hours of the night when would-be sky watchers are asleep. This one was seen (and by some accounts felt), so it made a bigger "splash" than usual. Searchers are still scouring the countryside for possible fragments of the meteorite.

MARS AND SATURN: After passing through the Beehive star cluster last night, Mars is on a collision course with Saturn--at least it looks that way. The two planets will not collide, but they will have a pleasing close encounter in the evening sky on Saturday night, June 17th. Look west after sunset.


6/14/06   CONVERGING PLANETS: Mars and Saturn aren't super-bright, but they will catch your eye after dark because they are so close together. The two planets are converging, forming a tight pair in the western sky. Look for them just after sunset on the evenings of June 15th through 17th. The view is best on June 17th, when Saturn and Mars are closest together, but it's also fun watching them converge on the two nights before.

PHOTO-OP: June 15th is special because, en route to Saturn, Mars will glide in front of the Beehive star cluster. Using binoculars or a small telescope you can easily see the ensemble: it will look like a red supernova (Mars) has gone off among the stars of the Beehive. Astrophotographers, prepare your cameras!


6/13/06   Last month, astronomers watched a meteoroid blast a hole in the lunar Sea of Clouds. See their video on NASA.

Another wave of electric-blue noctilucent clouds (NLCs) swept across northern Europe last night. These mysterious clouds favor high latitudes, but they have been sighted in recent years as far south as Colorado and Utah. Northern summer is the season for NLCs, so be alert after sunset for sinuous, blue-glowing ripples in the western sky.


6/5/06   The two biggest storms in the solar system are about to go bump in the night, in plain view of backyard telescopes.



Last night, sky watchers in Northern Ireland witnessed a vivid display of electric-blue noctilucent clouds. Also known as "NLCs," these clouds float through the outer reaches of Earth's atmosphere at the very edge of space. They are most often seen from far-northern places such as Scandinavia or Canada, but in recent years they have been spotted as far south as Colorado and Utah. Last night's display marks the beginning of the 2006 noctilucent cloud season. Visit for observing tips and a gallery of recent sightings.

5/30/06   Moon & Planets:

Keep an eye on the western sky at sunset tonight and tomorrow. On Tuesday evening, May 30th, the crescent Moon will appear right beside Mars. On Wednesday evening, May 31st, the Moon will glide by Saturn. The Moon makes a handy guide for finding these planets.

Visit for more information.

5/30/06   Moon & Planets:

Keep an eye on the western sky at sunset tonight and tomorrow. On Tuesday evening, May 30th, the crescent Moon will appear right beside Mars. On Wednesday evening, May 31st, the Moon will glide by Saturn. The Moon makes a handy guide for finding these planets.

Visit for more information.

5/30/06   Meteor Watch:

On May 31st, Earth will pass about five million miles from the dusty orbit of crumbling comet 73P/Schwassmann Wachmann 3. The great distance means a meteor shower is unlikely; but 73P is such a strange comet that even the unlikely is possible. Be alert for meteors slowly cutting across the sky in the nights ahead.

Visit for sky maps and more information.

5/30/06   Something remarkable is about to happen in the evening sky. Three planets and a star cluster are converging for a close encounter you won't want to miss.

Full story at

5/10/06   More than 60 fragments of dying comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 are racing toward Earth. There's no danger of a collision. At closest approach on May 12th through 16th, the mini-comets will be 6 million miles away.

That is close enough, however, for a marvelous view through backyard telescopes. Many of the fragments are themselves crumbling, producing clouds of gas and dust mixed with boulder-sized debris. As some fragments fade, others brighten, surprising onlookers. It's an amazing display.


5/4/06   Right now, Jupiter is having a close encounter with Earth. The giant planet is very bright in the night sky and looks terrific through backyard telescopes.


5/3/06   METEOR SHOWER: Earth is about to pass through a stream of dust from Halley's Comet, and this will produce the annual eta Aquarid meteor shower. The shower peaks on Saturday, May 6th, with 10 meteors per hour in the northern hemisphere and as many as 60 meteors per hour in the southern hemisphere. The best time to look is during the hours immediately before sunrise on Saturday morning.

PHOTO OP: On May 7th, the biggest fragment of dying comet 73P/Schwassmann Wachmann 3 will glide by the Ring Nebula in Lyra. The view through backyard telescopes should be wonderful. This is an opportunity for astrophotographers to take some rare photos of a comet and a planetary nebula side by side.


4/27/06   SOLAR FLARE ALERTS: Ham radio operators and solar photographers, would you like to know when X-flares are happening? Instant solar flare alerts from SpaceWeather PHONE ( allow you to catch solar eruptions in the act.
4/27/06   CRACKLING SUNSPOT: Big sunspot 875 is crackling with solar flares. Earlier today it unleashed an M8-flare, almost an X-class event. The sun's rotation is turning the spot toward Earth, raising the possibility of Earth-directed eruptions in the days ahead.


4/22/06   Set your alarm. Just before sunrise on Monday, April 24th, Venus and the crescent Moon will pop over the eastern horizon beautifully close together. The pair are so bright you can see them even from brightly-lit cities. This is worth waking up for, and a wonderful way to begin the day.


4/22/06   Astronomers are now monitoring more than 30 fragments of dying comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, which is approaching Earth for a close encounter in mid-May. One of the brightest fragments, fragment B, is splitting in two in plain view of amateur astronomers using backyard telescopes. Visit for pictures of the breakup, sky maps and more.
4/20/06   Earth is about to pass through the dusty tail of Comet Thatcher, and this will cause the annual Lyrid meteor shower. Forecasters expect the shower to peak on April 22nd, producing about 10 meteors per hour--modest, but pretty. The best time to look is during the hours before sunrise on Saturday morning. Go to a dark site away from city lights, if possible.

The Moon will also encounter the comet's tail on April 22nd, which raises an interesting possibility: Amateur astronomers may be able to spot flashes of light on the Moon when comet debris hits the lunar surface and explodes. All that's required is a backyard telescope and lots of patience.

Visit for details, sky maps and observing tips.

4/11/06   This month, Venus can guide you to a naked-eye planet that ancient astronomers inexplicably failed to notice. Read more at
4/7/06   Dying comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 continues to break apart. Astronomers are tracking at least 20 fragments approaching Earth for a harmless but beautiful close encounter in May.

In particular, fragment B of the comet has brightened 15-fold since April 2nd. This signals a possible breakup of "73P-B" into even more fragments. Amateur astronomers with backyard telescopes and CCD cameras can monitor the ongoing disintegration. Read more at

4/3/06   Solar activity is suddenly increasing. The biggest sunspots of the year are crossing the solar disk; one group is longer than 10 Earth diameters and poses a threat for solar flares. Meanwhile, astronomers are monitoring a large and delightfully complex prominence dancing long the sun's limb. Whether all this will translate into magnetic storms and auroras remains to be seen.


3/24/06   A cometary "string-of-pearls" will fly past Earth in May 2006 giving astronomers a fantastic view of a comet in its death throes.


3/24/06   When the sun does down tonight and the glow of sunset fades away, another glow will take its place--the Zodiacal Lights. If you live in the northern hemisphere, this is the best time of year to see them. They stretch upward from the western horizon forming a pale luminous triangle visible from places with dark skies. Zodiacal Lights are faint but pretty, and worth a trip to the countryside to see.


3/22/06   According to Einstein's theory of relativity, space travel is a good way to stay young. Or is it? Cosmic rays hitting human chromosomes can damage "telomeres" and cause premature symptoms of aging. NASA researchers are looking into this strange effect; what they learn about aging could benefit everyone, on Earth and in space.

Read the full story at

3/20/06   A solar wind stream hit Earth on March 18th, sparking a geomagnetic storm and auroras over northern US states such as Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. It's no coincidence that auroras are showing up now--on the eve of Northern Spring. History shows that weeks around the equinoxes are often good times to catch Northern Lights.

Visit for more information and pictures of this weekend's auroras.


Something's happening on the sun: all the sunspots have vanished. Solar physicists say this is a sign that solar minimum has arrived.

Read the full story at

Or read another story about it at


The following is from

AURORA SURPRISE: Sunspots have been scarce lately, but that doesn't mean solar activity is nil. A solar wind gust hit Earth's magnetic field on Feb 19th, sparking auroras of exceptional beauty over far-North America. Visit to view pictures of the storm taken from Earth and Earth-orbit.


How energy is released in flares on the Sun

How Coronal Mass Ejections from the Sun erupt and propagate through the solar wind

What makes the aurora erupt globally? The substorm onset problem

The solar wind is a dynamic and complex electrified and magnetic gas.