International Space Station Flyover Visible to Millions on February 3, 2016

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Northern Lights Now – The International Space Station (ISS) will be visible to as many as 80 million Americans on the East Coast Wednesday evening, February 3rd, starting at 6:17PM in Charlotte, NC and continuing until it passes into the Earth’s shadows for viewers in Portland, ME at 6:24PM. Along the way, viewers up and down the East Coast in Richmond, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York and Boston should have optimal views. The pass will be visible to viewers as far west as Chicago (Briefly), Pittsburgh, and NLN’s hometown of Burlington, Vermont.

Infographic showing ISS viewing timeline for East Coast Cities

Images above come from astroviewer.net, where you can enter your location and find your exact time to expect to see the ISS. According to Astroviewer, this pass will have a brightness magnitude of -3.3 for locations where it is passing directly overhead. For reference, that is slightly brighter than Jupiter appears when Jupiter is at it brightest. However, the ISS is much easier to see than Jupiter because it appears much bigger and it will be moving quickly across the sky. At any point in the transit, the Sun could glint off the solar panels producing a “flare” that could be reach magnitude -8 for a couple seconds.

The ISS appears so big that with a good pair of binoculars or a telescope, it should be possible to make out the shape of the station and see the identify the components of the craft. Here’s an image captured in England in April of 2015 by astrophotographer Roger Hutchinson.

ISS captured from Earth by Astrophotgrapher Roger Hutchinson in April 2016
ISS captured from Earth by Astrophotgrapher Roger Hutchinson in April 2016

The flyby will be a terrific opportunity to spur the interest of brand new stargazers. This pass will be easily accessible due to the time in the evening and because it will be a 5-6 minute pass with nearly a full arc for most people in the viewing zone. For more experienced stargazers, check out this video from the BBC on how to photograph the space station that features the photo above.

Skies should be very dark while ISS traverses the sky. The Moon will be a waning crescent and will not rise until well after midnight. For best viewing, find a dark location away from city lights and skyglow. However, even in cities, it should be possible to spot the satellite as long as there’s a open horizon to horizon view.

As is always the case with night sky viewing, clouds obstruct the view. As of this writing, 9 days out, the weather is somewhat dicey. There is a storm system predicted for the east coast Wednesday. If it is overcast where in your viewing location, you will not have a chance to see this pass. It is still early in the forecast cycle so the storm’s predicted arrival could easily be moved forward or back in the forecast between now and Wednesday, or it may not materialize at all. Any of those scenarios could leave clear skies for viewers on the East Coast.

Here’s the current GFS model run for 7:00pm EST on Wednesday Feb 3:

As of 1/26, the GFS long range model predicts a storm for the eastern US at during the flyover
As of 1/26, the GFS long range model predicts a storm for the eastern US at during the flyover

Update (1/29/2016):

There is still likely to cloudy in the Northeast for this flyover. However, the models have been showing this storm faster with each successive run. If the trend continues, the storm may clear out in time for the skies to clear up for most viewers. Here’s the latest model run showing fewer clouds than there were in the original post:

1/29 GFS model run shows the storm may move fast enough to provide many viewers with clear skies
1/29 GFS model run shows the storm may move fast enough to provide many viewers with clear skies

Slow moving CME from Filament Eruption may arrive at Earth Jan 18

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On January 14, a filament eruption on the south-center earth-facing disk launched what appears to be a slow moving Coronal Mass Ejection. Estimated velocity of the CME indicate it may take as much as 4 to 4.5 days before it arrives at Earth. When it does, it’s possible there will be elevated KP. Due to the slow speed of the the CME, it is unlikely that it will produce significant aurora, but it could increase the KP to the highest it has been since the January 5th aurora.

Here’s an animated GIF of the solar storm launching. This eruption was so slow, that we had to speed up the images to four times the normal speed we show solar events

Slow moving CME launches from filament in the south-center Solar disk on 1/14
Slow moving CME launches from filament in the south-center Solar disk on 1/14

Happy Hunting

Coronal Hole High Speed Stream Now Impacting Earth – Live Updates

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Northern Lights Now – The Coronal Hole High Speed Wind Stream (CH HSS) that prompted the Jan 6, 2016 G1 #aurora watch started arriving at Earth just past Midnight GMT On Jan 6. Rather than updating the original article, NLN will be posting updates to this blog post instead, please come back soon for more updates!

13:44 UTC January 7, 2015 (08:45AM EST)

Solar winds are now gradually subsiding. This period shows too much variability in the Bz to produce wide-spread aurora.

23:45 UTC January 6, 2015 (18:15PM EST)

Around 21:45 UTC the Bz shifted softly to the south with measurements in the -2 to -4nT range at the ACE satellite. This is very mildly south, but it lasted for about 75 minutes. It was enough to start an aurora show in Finland. Here’s a skycam framegrab taken from the Sodankyl√§ Geophysical Observatory from about an hour after the negative Bz was measured at Earth:

Aurora skycam from Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory in Finland
Aurora skycam from Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory in Finland

17:15 UTC January 6, 2015 (12:15PM EST)

Solar wind speeds have decreased slightly over the last 12 hours to around 525-550 km/s. In the last 2 hours readings have become more volatile. The Bz has stayed consistently north. As such, there have not been any signs of aurora. It is still possible that any transients or small CMEs traveling along the wind stream could push the Bz one way or the other. If that happens, there will be about 45 minutes of lead time.

04:15 UTC January 6, 2015 (11:15PM EST)

Just after midnight UTC solar wind speed started increasing. Reading moved up from 450km/s to 625km/s at the same time there was a 90 minute period of south point Bz. Together, these events pushed ground based KP monitors to register a KP of 4.67 (G1) for the 00:00 – 03:00 period. Wing KP responded by over-estimating the predicted 60 minute KP with a reading of 5.67 even though the Bz subsequently shifted to the north. The is expected to be a long duration high solar wind speed event, so there are ample opportunities for more aurora over the next 24-36 hours. Here’s the ACE data from SWPC with the increase in wind speed annotated:

Annotated ACE satellite date show increase in solar wind speed around midnight UTC
Annotated ACE satellite date show increase in solar wind speed around midnight UTC
WingKP registered a short term forecast of KP=5.67 around 03:45 UTC which was likely an over-estimate of actual conditions
WingKP registered a short term forecast of KP=5.67 around 03:45 UTC which was likely an over-estimate of actual conditions

Through this, there was a brief period where we’d have expected to see Aurora at lower latitudes. During that window this tweet came in from Scotland marking the first photographed aurora from this storm: