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Catch the Geminids!

12/10/2010

The annual Geminids meteor shower, scheduled to reach its peak on December 13 and 14, is the most intense shower of the entire year. This is prime time for amateurs who enjoy bouncing their VHF signals off the ionized trails of these space rocks as they streak into our atmosphere. Known as meteor scatter, this communication technique takes advantage of temporary radio pathways that can span nearly 2000 miles.

Most meteor scatter activity takes place on 6 meters and 2 meters. Some amateurs use SSB or CW to make quick contacts during longer “burns,” while others rely on digital modes, primarily FSK441, which is part of the free WSJT software suite.

Meteor scatter is not as difficult as it may seem. On 6 meters in particular, it is possible to make contacts with just 100 W or less using modest antennas such as loops or dipoles. Meteor scatter on 2 meters and higher bands is best with directional antennas such as Yagis. The Ping Jockey Central website is a popular real-time gathering place for hams who want to arrange meteor scatter contacts, although many contacts occur entirely at random.

You’ll find that activity during meteor showers takes place primarily in the late evening and early morning hours. Listen for brief burst of signals, known as “pings,” on 50.125 and 144.200 MHz, SSB. The calling frequencies for FSK441 are 50.260 144.140 MHz.

During the Geminids shower, you can participate in the North American Meteor Scatter Contest. This contest is for digital modes only and takes place throughout the shower period from 0000 UTC December 11 through 0200 UTC December 16. Complete rules are available here.



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