On February 12th, sunspot AR2699, which had recently morphed into four individual spots, exploded, producing a C1-class solar flare in addition to hurling a coronal mass ejection almost exactly in the direction of Earth.
The sunspots' rapid change in appearance was a significant clue that its magnetic field was changing, a process that can lead to solar flares when the magnetic field twists, turns, and magnetically reconnects to restore equilibrium.
Coronal mass ejection models at NASA and NOAA currently disagree with the timing for when the solar material will impact Earth; the coronal mass ejection could arrive as early as late on February 14th, but is more likely on February 15th.
The coronal mass ejection may be strengthened by a stream of fast moving solar wind particles that was already en route to Earth when the sunspot exploded; if the CME sweeps up material from the stream, much like a snowplow, it may increase the potency of the solar storm when it strikes Earth's magnetic field.
A G1 (minor) geomagentic storm watch is in effect for February 15th. Arctic sky watchers should be alert for auroras when the CME arrives; if the storm intensifies to class G2, observers in Canada and northern U.S. states may have a chance to see auroras as well.
© 2018 Meteorologist Chris Stubenrauch
DISCUSSION: Although captured in December 2017, NASA has now released images of the farthest photos ever taken from Earth by a spacecraft. The New Horizons LORRI (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) captured false-color images of Objects 2012 HZ84 (left) and 2012 HE85 (right) in the Kuiper Belt. The Kuiper Belt is a region located beyond the orbit of Neptune with asteroids, comets and other bodies made of mostly ice.
On December 5, 2017, the spacecraft snapped the images just over 3.79 billion miles (6.12 billion kilometers) from the Kuiper Belt objects. To put it into perspective, the Earth is located about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from the Sun. The photo surpassed the “Pale Blue Dot” images of Earth taken in 1990 by Voyager 1. The New Horizons flew past Pluto back in 2015 and is on course to fly by another icy body in the Kuiper Belt at the outer reaches of the solar system in January 2019.
After being launched in 2006, the New Horizons has fully lived up to its expectations. Although currently in electronic hibernation, the spacecraft will be reawakened in June 2018 by flight controllers in a lab in Johns Hopkins University in Laurel, Maryland. It will continue to glide during its preparation for its visit with 2014 MU69 in the Kuiper Belt.
Check out this link to read more about this historic event.
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©2018 Meteorologist Nicholas Quaglieri
DISCUSSION: On Tuesday February 6, 2018, SpaceX launched the first Falcon Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Falcon Heavy is a modified form of the Falcon 9 with two additional Falcon 9 first stages as boosters to provide more power to the rocket. This enables the Falcon Heavy to be able to carry heavier loads and be able to go to the Moon in future missions. This launch is a test to see what the Falcon Heavy can do outside of tests as well as being a stepping stone in commercial spaceflights to the Moon and beyond. The payload for this first launch is Elon Musk’s, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, personal Tesla roadster which will be in an orbit of the Sun that is similar in size to the planet Mars’ orbit. The rocket will be used to help meteorologists in the future as it is projected to take several satellites including the Formosat-7/COSMIC-2 which will study optical effects in the upper atmosphere in June of 2018.
Conditions for the launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida were good at the time of the launch window at 1830Z (1:30 pm EST) and remained the same through the launch which occurred at 2045Z (3:45 pm EST). In addition, the Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE), which is the maximum buoyancy of a parcel relative to the strength of upward motion, was very minimal and not able to be enough to generate any thunderstorms near the rocket launch. However, some clouds at about 2300 ft were observed but were not a major factor. Clouds generally are a concern due to historical lightning strikes involving rocket launches even when there are non-convective clouds aloft. An example of this is Apollo 12 back in 1969, when lightning struck the Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo spacecraft a minute into the flight despite there being no convective clouds at the time. There was a southeasterly wind between 5 and 10 knots near the surface with westerly winds aloft which helped the Falcon Heavy pitch to its desired angle of attack as it streaked through the atmosphere and into orbit. Weather conditions remained the same as the two boosters of the Falcon Heavy safely landed back at Cape Canaveral a few minutes after launch.
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©2018 Meteorologist JP Kalb