Aurora from space


Sun & Space Weather News 2008

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SUN SHOWS SIGNS OF LIFE: A flurry of new-cycle sunspots in October 2008 may signal the beginning of the end of Solar Minimum.

Read the full story at science@NASA.


SPOOKY SKIES: The heavens are getting into the spirit of Halloween. A solar wind stream is buffeting Earth's magnetic field, stirring up ghostly auroras around the Arctic Circle. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for them tonight. Meanwhile, Venus and the crescent Moon are converging for a sunset sky show on Halloween itself. The bright pair will be widely visible even from light-polluted cities.

Check for photos and sky maps.


Researchers on the THEMIS team have discovered 'magnetic portals' forming high above Earth that can briefly connect our planet to the Sun. Not only are the portals common, one space physicist contends they form twice as often as anyone had previously imagined.



NEW SUNSPOT: A "new-cycle" sunspot belonging to Solar Cycle 24 is emerging near the sun's northeastern limb. This is the third time in as many weeks that a new-cycle sunspot has interrupted the year's remarkable run of blank suns. The accelerating pace of new-cycle sunspot production is an encouraging sign that, while solar activity remains very low, the sunspot cycle is unfolding more or less normally. We are not stuck in a permanent solar minimum. Readers with solar telescopes should train them on the sun this weekend to observe sunspot genesis in action.

AURORA WATCH: Sky watchers from Alaska to Scandinavia should be alert for auroras tonight. A solar wind stream is buffeting Earth's magnetic field and causing high-latitude geomagnetic storms.

Visit for images and updates.


NEW SUNSPOT: For the first time in months, a significant sunspot is emerging on the sun. It is a fast-growing active region with two dark cores, each larger than Earth. The magnetic polarity of the sunspot identifies it as a member of new Sunspot Cycle 24. Because the year 2008 has brought so many blank suns, some observers have wondered if we are ever going to climb out of the ongoing deep solar minimum. Today's new sunspot is an encouraging sign that the 11-year solar cycle is indeed progressing, albeit slowly.

Visit for sunspot photos and updates.


Three months ago, a new solar cycle began. This week, however, the sun surprised onlookers with three big sunspots from the previous solar cycle. Strangely enough, this is perfectly normal. Find out what's happening on the sun in today's story from Science@NASA.



Solar activity is surging. Three large sunspots have materialized and at least one of them harbors energy for strong solar flares. An M2-class eruption on March 25th hurled a coronal mass ejection (CME) into space and emitted radio bursts audible in shortwave receivers on Earth. NOAA forecasters estimate a 50% chance of more M-flares during the next 24 hours.

Visit to see pictures of the burgeoning sunspots and to listen to yesterday's radio flare.


SPACE STATION AURORAS: Astronauts onboard the International Space Station have been enjoying some colorful auroras this month caused by solar wind buffeting Earth's magnetic field. Some of their photos have just been beamed back to Earth and you can see them on today's edition of

Earlier today, space shuttle Atlantis docked with the space station to deliver the new Columbus science laboratory, which will be installed during a spacewalk on Feb. 10th. As they work, the combined crews should be alert for more auroras. A solar wind stream is heading for Earth, due to arrive Feb. 10th or 11th, possibly sparking a new round of geomagnetic storms.

Meanwhile, the shuttle and the space station are putting on a show of their own. Last night, the two spacecraft orbited over Europe where photographers captured their flight. The space station has grown so large that amazing details are now obvious in the eyepieces of ordinary backyard telescopes. See the photos at


SOLAR ECLIPSE: This Thursday, Feb. 7th, the Moon will pass in front of the Sun, producing a solar eclipse over New Zealand, most of Antarctica and parts of Australia. It is not a total eclipse; the Moon will only partially cover the solar disk. Nevertheless, the event promises some beautiful moments.

For instance, the partially-eclipsed Sun will dapple the ground with crescent-shaped sunbeams. Observers in New Zealand and Australia should look in the shadows of leafy trees for this lovely phenomenon. On the barren slopes of Antarctica, scientists and explorers can produce the same effect by letting the sun shine through a spaghetti colander or a sheet of paper poked with holes.

It is dangerous to stare directly at a partial eclipse because the exposed portion of the Sun is as blindingly bright as usual. Backyard astronomers with safely-filtered solar telescopes may, however, point their optics at the Sun and watch the mountainous lunar limb glide across the sun's fiery surface. (For solar telescopes, see:

The best views of all are reserved for an remote stretch of the Antarctic where the Moon will pass dead-center in front of the Sun without fully covering it. A thin layer of star will poke out all around the Moon producing a vivid "ring of fire" or annular eclipse.

Visit for eclipse maps and timetables and, later this week, photos of the eclipse itself.


There will be a total lunar eclipse, well placed for evening observation, on Wednesday Feb. 20. Andrew Fraknoi of Foothill College and Astronomical Society of the Pacific has put together a concise guide to the eclipse for
media and the public. Access it here in PDF format (48 kB).


Today marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Explorer 1, the first US satellite. Explorer 1 carried science instruments built by James Van Allen and his group at Iowa, which enabled the discovery of the radiation belts that now bear his name, and set us on the path to the current space weather research as well as the space technology world as we know it. You can watch the Explorer I launch online:


Solar physicists have been waiting for the appearance of a reversed-polarity sunspot to signal the start of the next solar cycle. The wait is over. A magnetically reversed, high-latitude sunspot emerged today. This marks the beginning of Solar Cycle 24 and the first step toward a new solar maximum. Intense solar activity won't begin right away. Solar cycles usually take a few years to build from solar minimum (where we are now) to Solar Max (expected in 2011 or 2012). It's a slow journey, but we're on our way!

Visit for pictures of the new sunspot and updates.



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.