Earth Weather / Space Weather

The Halloween Super GeoMag Storms of 2003

By: Susie77, 9:02 PM GMT on October 31, 2013

Courtesy of  NASA

Something Flare-y This Way Comes: The mini-Halloween Storms of 2013

Oct. 31, 2013:  Some Halloweens are scarier than others.

Ten years ago, in late October 2003, space weather forecasters
experienced a frission of dread when two gigantic sunspots appeared.
Both had complex magnetic fields that harbored energy for strong
explosions.  If the spots turned toward Earth and erupted....
Blood-red auroras over Maryland on Halloween 2003. Credit: George Varros More
That's exactly what happened.  From Oct. 19th through Nov. 7th
2003, there were 17 major eruptions on the sun, including a
record-setting X28 flare.  One after another, CMEs (coronal mass
ejections) slammed into Earth's magnetosphere, causing geomagnetic
storms and Northern lights seen as far south as Florida and Texas.  On
Halloween itself, many trick or treaters witnessed blood-red
auroras--very spooky indeed.

At the peak of these "Halloween Storms," as solar physicists began
to call them, airlines had to re-route polar flights to lower
latitudes, the power went out in parts of Sweden, and more than half of
NASA's satellite fleet experienced problems ranging from temporary
shut-downs to permanent damage. The FAA's Wide Area Augmentation System
(a network of radio transmitters that improves GPS navigation for
aircraft) was offline for approximately 30 hours due to the storm, and
the Japanese ADEOS-2 satellite was severely damaged.

Fast forward 10 years to October 2013, and the sun is storming again.

A week before Halloween 2013, a new coven of big sunspots
appeared. To date (Oct. 31st), they have unleashed more than half a
dozen major flares including four X-class events.  Earth is not
experiencing the same kind of effects as ten years ago, however, because
the eruptions have not been as energetic and, moreover, most of them
have missed our planet. This makes the Halloween Storms of 2013 less
scary than their 2003 predecessors.
An X2-class solar flare recorded by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory on Sept. 29, 2013.

"This spate of activity is inconsequential when compared to the
2003 events,” recalls Joe Kunches, a longtime forecaster working at
NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder CO. He points out that
geomagnetic storm indices now are an order of magnitude smaller than
they were ten years ago.

Nevertheless, the current storms are remarkable because they are
the "flariest" thing to come along in a while.  Solar activity waxes and
wanes in 11-year cycles.  In 2003, the sun was ramping down from a
strong Solar Max. The potent Halloween storms of that year were, if not
actually predicted, at least not surprising. 2013 is different. The
current solar cycle is one of the weakest in a century. This makes the
mini-Halloween Storms of 2013 a bigger surprise even as they do less
Also mitigating the damage in 2013 is a decade of improvements in
space weather forecasting.  Using data from NASA science spacecraft such
as the twin STEREO probes and the Solar Dynamics Observatory, NOAA
analysts are able to predict the arrival of solar storms with better
accuracy than ever.  This gives satellite operators, NASA mission
controllers, and airline flight planners extra time to safeguard life
and property.

Ultimately, the ending of this spooky tale may require a
re-write.  Why?  Because it's not over yet.  As Halloween 2013 comes and
goes the sun is still peppered with large and active sunspots.  One of
them may yet send a powerful flare and CME directly toward us, sparking
storms akin to the ones from a decade ago.

When you knock on the door and shout “trick or treat”, you never
know what you might get when the door opens.  The sun is much the same
 Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Production editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA


1,000 Days In the Life of Our Sun, in Three Minutes

By: Susie77, 7:39 PM GMT on October 25, 2013

Beautiful video, with music, of images captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).

Courtesy of EarthSky

Updated: 7:40 PM GMT on October 25, 2013


Penumbral Lunar Eclipse of October 18

By: Susie77, 6:37 PM GMT on October 18, 2013

Courtesy of NASA

Penumbral Lunar Eclipse of October 18

The last lunar eclipse of the year is a relatively deep penumbral eclipse with a magnitude of 0.7649. It should be easily visible to the naked eye as a dusky shading in the southern half of the Moon. The times of the major phases are listed below.

Penumbral Eclipse Begins: 21:50:38 UT
Greatest Eclipse: 23:50:17 UT
Penumbral Eclipse Ends: 01:49:49 UT

Note that the beginning and end of a penumbral eclipse are not visible to the eye. In fact, no shading can be detected until about 2/3 of the Moon's disk is immersed in the penumbra. This would put the period of nominal eclipse visibility from about 23:30 to 00:10 UT. Keep in mind that this is only an estimate. Atmospheric conditions and the observer's visual acuity are important factors to consider. An interesting exercise is to note when penumbral shading is first and last seen.

Figure 4 shows the path of the Moon through the penumbra as well as a map of Earth showing the regions of eclipse visibility. Eastern Canada will see the entire event while the rest of Canada and the USA will see moonrise with the eclipse already in progress. Observers in Europe and Africa will also see the entire event, while eastern Asia misses the end because of moonset.

The October 18 penumbral lunar eclipse is the 52nd member of Saros 117, a series of 71 eclipses in the following sequence: 8 penumbral, 9 partial, 24 total, 7 partial, and 23 penumbral lunar eclipses (Espenak and Meeus, 2009). Complete details for the series can be found at:


Godspeed, Scott Carpenter

By: Susie77, 2:10 PM GMT on October 11, 2013

Courtesy of Space dot com

Godspeed, Scott Carpenter.

The United States' fourth astronaut to fly in space and the second to orbit the Earth, Scott Carpenter, 88, died on Thursday (Oct. 10) after suffering a recent stroke.

The original Mercury 7 astronaut was being cared for at a hospice center in Denver when he passed. Carpenter was initially expected to make a full recovery from the stroke, but his condition worsened this week, sources close to his family shared.

Carpenter passed at 5:30 a.m. MDT (7:30 a.m. EDT; 1130 GMT) with his wife Patty at his side, his family confirmed to

"Today, the world mourns the passing of Scott Carpenter," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "As one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, he was in the first vanguard of our space program — the pioneers who set the tone for our nation's pioneering efforts beyond Earth."

"His accomplishments truly helped our nation progress in space from the earliest days to the world leadership we enjoy today," Bolden said. "We will miss his passion, his talent and his lifelong commitment to exploration."

Chosen in 1959 among NASA's first astronauts, Carpenter made his first and only spaceflight on May 24, 1962, when he became the sixth man worldwide to leave the planet.

During his Mercury-Atlas 7 mission, Carpenter circled the Earth three times, conducted some of the first astronaut science experiments, and consumed the first solid space food — small square cubes composed of chocolate, figs, and dates mixed with high-protein cereals.

"You have to realize my experience with zero-g, although transcending and more fun than I can tell you about, was, in the light of current space flight accomplishments, very brief," Carpenter said in 1999 during a NASA oral history interview. "The zero-g sensation and the visual sensation of space flight are transcending experiences, and I wish everybody could have them."

He splashed down aboard his "Aurora 7" capsule 4 hours and 56 minutes after his launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla. — and 250 miles (400 kilometers) off course. His overshot re-entry was the result of several spacecraft malfunctions, including the intermittent failure of attitude indicators and the retrorockets firing late and underthrust.

"I had the record for overshooting the target for a long time until some cosmonauts came along some years later and missed theirs by 1,500 miles," Carpenter said.

Carpenter never flew in space again, the result of an injury to his left arm sustained in a motorcycle accident in 1964. He did however, become an aquanaut, spending a record 30 days on the ocean floor aboard the Navy's SEALAB II, an experimental habitat located off the coast of California.

Besides his own space and sea adventures, Carpenter is popularly remembered for his radio call "Godspeed, John Glenn," which heralded his fellow Mercury astronaut's lift off to become the first American in orbit on Feb. 20, 1962. With Carpenter's passing, Glenn is the last of the Mercury 7 astronauts alive today.

Malcolm Scott Carpenter was born in Boulder, Colorado, on May 1, 1925, to Dr. Marion Scott Carpenter, a research chemist, and Florence (Noxon) Carpenter. He attended the University of Colorado, where he received his bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1949.

Commissioned in the Navy in 1949, Scott Carpenter underwent flight training in Pensacola, Fla. and Corpus Christi, Texas before becoming a Naval Aviator in April 1951. During the Korean War, Carpenter served with patrol Squadron Six, flying anti-submarine, ship surveillance, and aerial mining, and ferret missions in the Yellow Sea, South China Sea, and the Formosa Straits.

After the war and attending the Navy Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland, Carpenter was assigned to the electronics test division of the Naval Air Test Center, also at Patuxent. In that assignment, he test flew every type of naval aircraft including multi and single-engine jet fighters, propeller-powered fighters, attack planes, patrol bombers, transports and seaplanes.

From 1957 to 1959, Carpenter attended the Navy General Line School and the Navy Air Intelligence School and was then assigned as an air intelligence officer to USS Hornet aircraft carrier. Carpenter was serving on the Hornet when he received secret orders to report to Washington for what he soon learned was NASA's recruitment effort for Project Mercury astronauts.

Following his Aurora 7 spaceflight and participation in the Navy's Man-in-Sea Project, Carpenter served as executive assistant to the director of the Manned Spacecraft Center (today, Johnson Space Center in Houston) and was active in designing the Apollo lunar module, as well as advancing the use of underwater training for spacewalks.

He left NASA in 1967, and spent two more years with the Navy's Deep Submergence Systems Project, prior to his retirement from public service. Carpenter then established and led Sea Sciences, a venture capital corporation aimed at enhancing the use of ocean resources while improving the health of the planet. In pursuit of these goals, he dove in most of the world's oceans, including the Arctic.

Later as a consultant, Carpenter contributed to improving diving instruments, including breathing devices, swimmer propulsion units and small submersibles.

A recipient of the National Aeronautic Association's Collier Trophy, a member of the Astronaut Hall of Fame and a co-founder of the Mercury 7 Foundation (today the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation), Carpenter told of his "uncommon journey" to become a Mercury astronaut in "For Spacious Skies," his 2003 autobiography penned with his daughter Kristen Stoever.

He also wrote the "underwater techno-thriller" novels "The Steel Albatross" in 1991 and "Deep Flight" in 1994.

Carpenter is survived by his wife Patty Barrett and seven children, four from his first marriage, two from his second marriage and one from his third. He is also survived by two stepchildren, a granddaughter and five step-grandchildren.


Legendary Draconid meteor shower

By: Susie77, 1:59 PM GMT on October 07, 2013

Courtesy of Earth Sky

The constellation Draco the Dragon will be spitting out meteors, also known as shooting stars. The Draconid shower is predicted to produce the greatest number of meteors on the night of October 7, but the next night might be good, too. Watch for them first thing at nightfall. Fortunately, the thin waxing crescent moon won’t interfere with this year’s Draconid meteor display. In fact, the moon and planets set in the southwestern sky around nightfall, serving as a wonderful prelude to tonight’s Draconid meteor show.

Before nightfall on October 7 and 8, as you’re preparing to watch for meteors, look southwest to see the waxing crescent moon between the planets Venus and Saturn.

If you live at middle and far northern latitudes anywhere around the globe, this shower is well worth a try. Unlike many major showers, the radiant for the Draconids is highest up at nightfall, so it’s best to watch for these meteors as soon as darkness falls, not in the wee hours before dawn. Spend an hour or more under a dark and open sky, lying down and with your feet pointing northward. Oftentimes, this hard-to-predict shower doesn’t offer much more than a handful of languid meteors per hour. But watch out if the Dragon awakes!

Once again, watch at nightfall and early evening because that’s when the radiant point for the Draconid shower is highest in the nighttime sky. We emphasize it, because most meteor showers are best after midnight … but not this one.

Radiant point of Draconid meteor shower, in the Head of the constellation Draco the Dragon, near the Dragon’s Eyes: the stars Rastaban and Eltanin. The radiant for the Draconids is highest up at nightfall in early October.

The Draconid meteor shower produced awesome meteor displays in 1933 and 1946, with thousands of meteors per hour seen in those years. Even two years ago – in October 2011 – people around the globe saw an elevated number of Draconid meteors, despite a bright moon that night. European observers saw over 600 meteors per hour in 2011.

As far as we know, nobody is calling for the Draconid meteor shower to burst into storm in 2013. But you never know for sure with the Draconids, so it’s worth watching out for on the moonless evenings of October 7 and 8. Just keep in mind that meteor showers are notorious for defying predictions, either surpassing or falling shy of expectation. The only way to know for sure is to try to watch the shower.

Most meteor showers are named for the constellation from which the meteors radiate on the sky’s dome. The Draconids, however, are sometimes also called the Giacobinids, to honor the man who first sighted the comet that spawned this meteor shower.

Michel Giacobini discovered this comet on December 20, 1900. Another sighting in 1913 added the name Zinner to that of the comet, which thus became 21P Giacobini-Zinner. It is a periodic comet, which returns every 6 years and 4 months. Tracking this comet, and noting this October meteor shower, helped astronomers figure out how to predict meteor showers in 1915. The great Draconid/Giacobinid meteor storms occurred in 1933 and 1946. The comet returned in 1998 as well, and the Draconids picked up that year, but only to a rate of about 100 per hour. Then in 2011, observers in Europe saw over 600 Draconid meteors per hour.

Why was the meteor shower so good in 2011? And why is it good in some years but not in others? Comet Giacobini-Zinner was at perihelion – closest to the sun – in 2011. Thus it was in the inner solar system, Earth’s own neighborhood. Meteors are debris from comets, so when a parent comet is nearby, a good meteor shower is possible.

In 2013 – approximately two years after the comet’s 2011 perihelion (closest point to the sun) – there might be another meteor storm around the time of this shower’s peak. Or there might not be.

Perhaps Draconid meteor rates will go up this year. Or we might see only a handful of meteors per hour. Under normal conditions, when astronomers speak of a meteor shower peaking, it is similar to a weather forecaster saying, “The heaviest rain/snow is predicted for such-and-such hour.” In other words, the prediction might not be precise, since nature is always unpredictable to a degree. But, generally speaking, the rate of meteors falling will be higher during the peak of a meteor shower than on any other night.

For a taste of history related to this shower, go to the Astronomy Abstract Service from the Smithsonian and NASA and find a 1934 article called “The Meteors from Giacobini’s Comet” by C.C. Wylie. It is an account of the famed meteor storm of 1933.

Bottom line: In 2013, the Draconid meteor shower – also called the Giacobinids – peak on the night of October 7. The night of October 8 might feature meteors, too. The radiant is highest in the evening hours, so no need to wait until after midnight. Find a dark, country sky and as much open sky as possible. Lie down on a reclining chair and look upward, starting at nightfall. How many Draconid meteors can you count in the moon-free skies these next few evenings? No one expects a Draconid storm this year, but it’s fun to wait and see.


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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About Susie77

Sometimes I complain about the earthly weather, but mostly I like to post about astronomy and space events. Hope you enjoy the articles.

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