Blue Moon G1 Storm Watch Posted July 31

SWPC has posted a G1 for late July 31 and early August 1, 2015. This watch is due to the arrival of a high speed solar wind stream coming from a group of coronal holes pointed towards Earth. The predicted peak of activity coincides almost directly with the second full Moon of July, a blue moon, which will make viewing aurora difficult unless this proves to be a very strong storm.

The three coronal holes that are contributing the predicted increase in solar wind speed are visible in the combined 211, 193 and 171 wavelengths from July 29. In this image taken by the SDO observatory NLN has added arrows pointing to the coronal holes that appear as dark areas.

Coronal holes visible on SDO imagery
Coronal holes visible as dark areas on AIA 211, 193 and 171

Generally, increases in solar wind speed is are more predictable coming from coronal holes. They rotate with the Sun and so solar scientists have data from the previous rotation. Additionally, the flows out from a coronal hole are more consistent and even than in a solar flare. Together, these give forecasters higher than normal confidence in the models and predicted timeline. For this solar storm, SWPC is predicting KP=5, or G1 storming, in the final 3-hour period of 7/31, and the first 3-hour period of 8/1. This timeline translated to between 5PM to 11pm on July 31 central time.

This image shows the predicted 3-hour maximum KP values for the two days of the current storm watch (click image to enlarge)

Aurora prediction Clocks 20150731
SWPC predicted timelines for solar storm arrival

The storm will coincide almost directly with the full Moon. This is the second full Moon of July making it the first Blue Moon since August 20, 2013. While that is neat and interesting, the full moon will brighten the entire sky and will make viewing this aurora difficult.

Happy Hunting!

DSCOVR Reaches Lagrange Point 1

NASA and NOAA announced the exciting news that the DSCOVR satellite has reached its destination about 1 Million miles from Earth. The satellite launched abord an Air Force Space X Falcon 9 rocket on February 11. The journey to it’s destination at the Langrange Point 1 took about 100 days.

Official DSCOVR Logo from NOAA
Official DSCOVR Logo from NOAA

The space weather community is anticipating vast amounts of new data from the space based observatory. The instruments on board will allow for much higher sensitivity measurements on magnetic flux and solar particles. The real-time data should help SWPC (and all space weather enthusiasts) make more accurate predictions of when and how strong solar storms will arrive and peak. If you want to geek out, here are some technical details on the instruments DSCOVR is carrying.

The satellite is in orbit around the Lagrange 1 point. This is a location in space where the gravity between the Earth and the Sun is in balance which means that the satellite needs less power to keep a stable orbit. There are actually 5 Lagrange points related to Earth. L1 and L2 are the closest to Earth. L3 is in the same position as Earth but 180 degrees opposite Earth, L4 and L5 are about 60 degrees forward and backward in Earth’s orbit.

Lagrange points Diagram
Diagram of the 5 Lagrange point between Earth and Sun

Now that DSCOVR has reached it’s destination it will start sending data back to Earth. NOAA and the SWPC are anticipating at least 30 days before the instruments are calibrated and they can share the first data and images. Once it is operational, the ACE satellite (also located at L1 and where we get most of our current space weather data) will be used for research only, and DSCOVR will become the primary data collection satellite.

Also famously on board DSCOVR is the Earth directed camera EPIC (Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera). Al Gore was such a strong proponent of getting this camera into space that for a short while the DSCOVR satellite was known as “GoreSat.” This camera will produce some of the first “Earth as a blue marble” images we’ve seen in years. Current whole Earth images have to be stitched together from images taken of Earth from much closer.

Blue Marble Earth
Whole Earth image from stitched together images taken by NASA Satelites

Happy Hunting!

G1 Storm Watch Posted for July 5 2015

[Update: G1 storming is arriving Earlier than expected! KP=5.67 is predicted for 6:00pm EST]

SWPC has posted a G1 geomagnetic storm watch for July 5. There is a chance that KP will be higher than 5, between 8:00pm EST July 4th and 8pm EST July 5th. Maybe mother nature will put on a fireworks show for those of us celebrating Independence Day in the US.

G1 storm watch - 7/5/2015
SWPC Issues G1 Geomagnetic Storm Watch for July 5, 2015

We don’t have specifics details on the expected timing, but follow the NLN Twitter Feed for updates as we get more information from SWPC.

The enhanced chances for Aurora this weekend are due to a Coronal Hole High Speed Stream or CH HSS. In the image below, the dark area on the Sun (shaped a little like South America) is the coronal hole. This area spews a fast moving river of charged particles into space. When that stream is pointed towards Earth, it typically arrives about three days later.

Coronal Hole 7/2/2015
Coronal hole (dark area in center sun) from 7.2.2015

When the activity from this storm picks up, don’t forget to watch the KP live on NLN’s live KP web page

Happy Hunting