The Great Geomagnetic Storm of May 1921

May 12, 2020: 99 years ago this week, people around the world woke up to some unusual headlines.

“Telegraph Service Prostrated, Comet Not to Blame” — declared the Los Angeles Times on May 15, 1921. “Electrical Disturbance is ‘Worst Ever Known’” — reported the Chicago Daily Tribune. “Sunspot credited with Rail Tie-up” — deadpanned the New York Times.

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When Will Our Quiet Sun Turn Violent?

By Sarah ScolesMay rom Science Mag – Re-Blogged From WUWT

BOULDER, COLORADO—For all of February the sun is nearly spotless, a smooth circle filled in with a goldenrod crayon. It has been more than a decade since it was so lacking in sunspots—dark magnetic knots as big as Earth that are a barometer of the sun’s temperament. Below the surface, however, a radical transition is afoot. In 5 years or so, the sun will be awash in sunspots and more prone to violent bursts of magnetic activity. Then, about 11 years from now, the solar cycle will conclude: Sunspots will fade away and the sun will again grow quiet.

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A violent, active sun, as seen in ultraviolet light in October 2014—near solar maximum in its 11-year solar cycle. As the sun approaches solar minimum, scientists are trying to predict the timing and strength of the next solar maximum.

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WHY ARE NOCTILUCENT CLOUDS GOING CRAZY?

By Dr Tony Philips – Re-Blogged From Space Weather

Another night, another bright display of noctilucent clouds. “On the evening of June 17th, a large area of our sky was covered by noctilucent clouds, even directly overhead,” reports Marek Nikodem of Szubin, Poland. “Simply mysterious, beautiful, stunning, unpredictable and photogenic–this season is unbelievable.”


Noctilucent clouds over Szubin, Poland, on June 17. Credit: Marek Nikodem

Heiko Ulbricht witnessed the same display from Herzogswalde, Germany. “I have been observing noctilucent clouds for 21 years. Never before have I seen such a stunning mega-outburst! The electric-blue waves extended 50° above the horizon with many rippling structures. I was speechless.”

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Solar Slump Continues

Re-Blogged From WUWT

Solar experts predict the Sun’s activity in Solar Cycle 25 to be below average, similar to Solar Cycle 24

April 5, 2019 – Scientists charged with predicting the Sun’s activity for the next 11-year solar cycle say that it’s likely to be weak, much like the current one. The current solar cycle, Cycle 24, is declining and predicted to reach solar minimum – the period when the Sun is least active – late in 2019 or 2020.

Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel experts said Solar Cycle 25 may have a slow start, but is anticipated to peak with solar maximum occurring between 2023 and 2026, and a sunspot range of 95 to 130. This is well below the average number of sunspots, which typically ranges from 140 to 220 sunspots per solar cycle.

Graph via Twitter from
NOAA’s Space Weather Workshop

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Space Weather Probes Shatter GPS Record

By Dr Tony Phillips – Re-Blogged From Space Weather

NASA’s MMS probes, which use GPS signals to orbit Earth in tight formation, have just shattered the record for long-distance GPS navigation. The four probes recently located themselves 116,300 miles above Earth’s surface, surprising experts who once thought that GPS could function no higher than about 22,000 miles.

“When we began the mission, we had no idea high-altitude GPS would be such a robust capability,” says Trevor Williams, the MMS flight dynamics lead at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.


Above: an artist’s concept of the 4 MMS spacecraft

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Cosmic Rays Increasing for the 4th Year in a Row

By Dr Tony Phillips – Re-Blogged From Space Weather

Cosmic rays in the stratosphere are intensifying for the 4th year in a row. This finding comes from a campaign of almost weekly high-altitude balloon launches conducted by the students of Earth to Sky Calculus. Since March 2015, there has been a ~13% increase in X-rays and gamma-rays over central California, where the students have launched hundreds of balloons.

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The grey points in the graph are Earth to Sky balloon data. Overlaid on that time series is a record of neutron monitor data from the Sodankyla Geophysical Observatory in Oulu, Finland. The correlation between the two data sets is impressive, especially considering their wide geographic separation and differing methodologies. Neutron monitors have long been considered a “gold standard” for monitoring cosmic rays on Earth. This shows that our student-built balloons are gathering data of similar quality.

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A NEW SPACE WEATHER METRIC

Re-Blogged From Space Weather

The daily Thermosphere Climate Index (TCI) is now on Spaceweather.com. TCI is a relatively new space weather metric that tells us how the top of Earth’s atmosphere (or “thermosphere“) is responding to solar activity. During Solar Maximum, the top of our atmosphere heats up and expands. Right now the opposite is happening. Solar Minimum conditions are in effect, and this is causing the upper atmosphere to cool off:

TCI was invented by Martin Mlynczak of the Langley Research Center along with other NASA and university colleagues. For the past 17 years they have been using the SABER instrument onboard NASA’s TIMED satellite to monitor the wattage of infrared emissions from the top of the atmosphere. Recently, they realized that those measurements could be used to summarize the state of the thermosphere in a single daily index, the TCI, expressed in watts (W). Moreover, they learned to calculate TCI going back in time all the way to the 1940s, thus placing current conditions in a historical context.

So where do we stand? Right now TCI=4.3×1010 W. That means the top of Earth’s atmosphere is approximately 10 times cooler than it was during the record-setting Solar Max of 1957-58 (TCI=49.4×1010 W). The record low value for TCI, 2.1×1010 W, was set during the Solar Minimum of 2009. It’s still not that cold in the thermosphere, although we’re getting close.

You can monitor daily values of TCI right here on SpaceWeather.com. TCI not only tracks the slow progression of the 11-year solar cycle, but also it can change suddenly in response to solar flares and geomagnetic storms. As these events occur, we’ll be writing about them to raise awareness of the many ways the sun can dump energy into Earth’s atmosphere. Stay tuned!

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