"On Feb. 15th an asteroid about half the size of a football field will fly past Earth closer than many man-made satellites. Since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s, astronomers have never seen an object so big come so close to our planet."
"CHANCE OF FLARES: NOAA forecasters estimate a 60% chance of M-class solar flares and a 10% chance of X-flares during the next 24 hours. The most likely source of any eruption is big sunspot AR1598."
A dark hole in the sun’s atmosphere (a ‘coronal hole’) is spewing a stream of solar wind toward Earth. The impact of the stream, expected on May 9-11, could add to the effect of the incoming CMEs, boosting the chances of strong geomagnetic activity later this week. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory took this picture of the opening on May 8th.
Coronal holes are places where the sun’s global magnetic field opens up and allows some of the sun’s atmosphere to escape. The outflow of gas is the solar wind. NOAA forecasters estimate a 40% chance of geomagnetic activity on May 9-10 when the stream arrives (along with the CMEs of May 7th).
Magnetic fields on the sun’s northeastern limb erupted around 17:45 UT on April 16th, producing one of the most visually-spectacular explosions in years. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the blast at extreme ultraviolet wavelengths:
The explosion, which registered M1.7 on the Richter Scale of solar flares, was not Earth-directed. A CME produced by the blast is likely to hit NASA’s STEREO-B spacecraft, but probably no planets.
This event confirms suspicions that an active region of significance is rotating onto the Earth-facing side of the sun.
SPRITE SEASON BEGINS: The first sprites of summer are starting to appear in the skies of North America. The strange thing is, summer is almost three months away.
Sprites are electrical discharges that come out of the top of thunderclouds, opposite ordinary lightning bolts which plunge toward Earth. Sprites can tower as high as 90 km above ground. That makes them a form of space weather as they overlap the zone of auroras, meteors, and noctilucent clouds.
BRIGHT COMET DIVES INTO RADIATION STORM
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A bright comet is diving into the sun. It was discovered just last week by SOHO’s SWAN instrument, so it has been named “Comet SWAN.” The comet’s death plunge ( or “swan dive”) comes just as the sun has unleashed a strong flare and radiation storm around Earth. SOHO images of the comet are confused to some degree by energetic protons striking the camera. Nevertheless, you can see Comet SWAN moving through the electronic “snow” in this 3 hour movie:
This is a Kreutz sungrazer, a fragment of the same ancient comet that produced sungrazing Comet Lovejoy in Dec. 2011. According to comet expert Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC, “Comet SWAN is one of the brightest Kreutz-group comets ever observed by SOHO, although not quite as bright as Comet Lovejoy.” Battams forecasts a peak magnitude of -1 for Comet SWAN, while Lovejoy was three magnitudes brighter at -4.
Will Comet SWAN survive its plunge through the sun’s atmosphere as Comet Lovejoy did? Probably not, but experts also said Comet Lovejoy would not survive, and they were happily wrong. Comet’s SWAN’s closest approach to the sun will likely come on March 14th.
SOLAR ECLIPSE: On Feb. 21st, the new Moon passed in front of the sun, off-center, producing a partial solar eclipse. The only place to see it was from space. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) sends this picture from geosynchronous orbit approximately 36,000 km above Earth’s surface.