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Grauer, A. D., Grauer, P. A., Davies, N., & Davies, G. (2019). Impact of Space Weather on the Natural Night Sky. PASP, 131(1005), 114508.
Abstract: In 2018, Solar Cycle 24 entered a deep solar minimum. During this period, we collected night sky brightness data at Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary (CCIDSS) in the USA (2018 September 4–2019 January 4) and at Aotea/Great Barrier Island International Dark Sky Sanctuary (AGBIIDSS) in New Zealand (2018 March 26–August 31. These sites have artificial-light-pollution-free natural night skies. The equipment employed are identical Unihedron SQM-LU-DL meters, used as single-channel differential photometers, to scan the sky as Earth rotates on its axis. We have developed new analysis techniques which select those data points which are uninfluenced by Sun, Moon, or clouds to follow brightness changes at selected points on the celestial sphere and to measure the brightness of the airglow above its quiescent level. The 2018 natural night sky was measured to change in brightness by approximately 0.9 mag arcsec−2 at both locations. Preliminary results indicate the modulations of the light curves (brightness versus R.A.) we observed are related in complex ways to elements of space weather conditions in the near-Earth environment. In particular, episodes of increased night sky brightness are observed to be contemporaneous with geomagnetic activity, increases in mean solar wind speed, and some solar proton/electron fluence events. Charged particles in the solar wind take days to reach near-Earth environment after a coronal hole is observed to be facing in our direction. Use of this information could make it possible to predict increases in Earth’s natural night sky brightness several days in advance. What we have learned during this solar minimum leads us to search for other solar driven changes in night sky brightness as the Sun begins to move into solar maximum conditions.