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The K7RA Solar Update


Our Sun continues to be very active, with most days revealing more sunspots. We saw one new sunspot group on October 9, another on October 10, two more on October 11 and two more on October 12. But that’s not all: There was another on October 13, two more on October 15, two more on October 17, one more on October 19 and three more on October 20. There have been 28 new sunspot groups making an appearance in the last 30 days. But the biggest news is the sunspot number yesterday, Thursday, October 20. The daily sunspot number was 195, a level not equaled or bettered since nearly eight years ago, on November 26, 2003, when it was 209. The closest the daily sunspot number came to equaling Thursday’s value was on July 4, 2005 when it was 192.

The average daily sunspot number rose more than 66 percent this week, or 63.2 points (October 13-19) over last, to 158.6, while the average daily solar flux for the same period rose more than 15 percent (or 19.1 points) to 144.2. With the geomagnetic indices this week below the previous week, radio amateurs have frequently been working stations on other continents as late as midnight (local time) on 10 meters. The bands are alive. Sunspot numbers for October 13-19 were 147, 157, 166, 158, 165, 155 and 162, with a mean of 158.6. The 10.7 cm flux was 137.6, 136.1, 137.7, 151, 152.6, 146.8 and 147.3, with a mean of 144.2. The estimated planetary A indices were 5, 2, 8, 7, 4, 5 and 7, with a mean of 5.4. The estimated mid-latitude A indices were 3, 1, 4, 7, 2, 5 and 5 with a mean of 3.9.

The latest forecast from USAF/NOAA shows solar flux at 160 from October 21-22, 155 and 150 on October 23-24, 145 on October 25-27, 135 on October 28, and then 130 on October 29 through November 3. Note that for the next few days, this represents a substantial increase over what was reported one day ago in The ARRL Letter. That was based on Wednesday’s prediction, which showed 145 on October 20, when the actual value turned out to be 159.1. The planetary A index is predicted at 5 on October 21-27, 8 on October 28-30 and 5 on October 31-November 2, and 8 on November 3-5. Geophysical Institute Prague shows quiet conditions October 21-13, quiet to unsettled October 24 and quiet again October 25-27.

Mike Shaffer, KA3JAW, in Tampa, Florida (EL87) reported his observations of the Draconid meteor shower on October 8, 2011 between 1600-2100. He said there is no chance of seeing the shower in North America because of a waxing gibbous moon. Mike decided to use signals from Cuban analog television on channel 2, seeing if he could detect reflections off the meteor trails. At 1732, he noticed elevated signal to noise ratio on the video carrier frequency 55.25 MHz. At 1900, 2 meter meteor scatter was occurring over Central Europe, with propagation from the United Kingdom to Russia. The rate peaked at 2010, with stations from Sweden to Israel joining in.

Mike wrote: “Meteor scatter signals were observed at the following times: 1847, 1857, 1909 and 2000 UTC with a bright white video raster scan flash observed on the TV screen and/or audio tics, whistles and pings lasting anywhere between a quarter to one second in duration. You don’t need professional grade equipment to achieve results. In my case, I did it with a minimum amount of hardware: a pre-1995 13-inch color television set that does not have video mute circuits (blue screen when no signal is present) with 25 feet of RG-6 low-loss satellite coax cable coupled to a non-amplified low-VHF ‘cut-to-band’ outdoor television antenna that is mounted 10 feet off the ground. If you want to achieve more efficiency with increasing your meteor detection rates, obtain a low noise medium-to-high gain (10-20 dB) antenna preamplifier placed near the antenna feed-point. Meteor scatter signals can be heard roughly from 300 to 1000 km distance.” Thanks, Mike!

Jon Jones, N0JK, reported a peak rate of 660 meteors per hour centered on 2010 October 8 on both 6 and 2 meters. He didn’t hear anything on 2 meters, but he did see action on 6 meters on 50.125 MHz: “I worked W6OAL DM79 at 1958 UTC and K7TNT DN74 at 2013 UTC, both random on SSB. W6OAL was quite loud, K7TNT peaked to 5×9, but mostly not as strong. He was in almost all the time on residuals, and I heard him work K0MVJ EN35 in Minnesota and K9ZM EN50. The meteors seemed to peak between 1945-2030. There was a sharp drop off after 2030 UTC, but interesting meteor scatter conditions in the middle of the afternoon. The Draconids are a ‘slow’ shower, as the meteors strike the ionosphere at 20 km/second vs 60 km/second for the Perseids. Thus, the ionization per meteor would be lower. The peak time of visual observed meteors in Europe correlated with radio reflections on 50 MHz.”

Pat Dyer, WA5IYX, of San Antonio, Texas reported this on October 13: “While the north-south 6 meter paths to South America from here continue to improve as the cycle advances, the recent FK8CP (New Caledonia) paths have come as a pleasant surprise here. The best so far was 2330 on October 9 through 0020 on October 10 when FK8CP reached as high as a true S7 on the meter. The US footprint was initially limited to Central and East Texas along a narrow-latitude belt (it did eventually extend as far east as the New Orleans area). This is in keeping with the F2F2 mode involving a critical set of angles in the geometry. Later that evening (US time), FK8CP was reported from a wider range of states, including New Mexico and Colorado. My last 6 meter FK QSOs were in Solar Cycle 22 back in 1989 and 1991. About 24 hours later, his signals here were fleeting, but he was worked in Western and West Central Florida. Again, the US footprint was only about 2 degrees wide in north-south latitude extent (though the Gulf of Mexico may have well obscured a wider range there).

“As can be seen from Sherlock DX map plots, Florida is the favored US location for these daily 6 meter South American paths. The paths often spread across to Mexico (to within 600-700 miles south of here), often making one wish for an Es-linking event. “The 47-48 MHz Chilean FM broadcast signals provide excellent high-power MUF indicators for that region, but they will often show just how sluggish things can be to move up the next 2 MHz into 6 meters proper! These are relatively-high ERP signals with probably good transmitter locations vs the other two-way land-mobile signals in many regions down there that used to serve as propagation clues. From here, the best crossing angles of the geomagnetic equator have their land endpoints on Easter Island. For more than four decades now, many have seen a strong need for some reliable 6 meter beacon(s) to be established down there to confirm our suspicions of just how good those paths are. The few well-equipped and dedicated 6 meter expeditions to those areas at the best time(s) of the year (and Cycle) have been very productive.”

On October 14, we received this report from Ted Saba, KN5O, of Covington, Louisiana: “I worked Remi, FK8CP, on 6 meters on October 9 at 2341 on SSB with 5/1 signals both directions and on CW at 2346 with 5/1-2/9 signals both directions. This was my longest DX QSO since working Japan. I was hoping to snag Fred, KH7Y, to complete my 6 meter Worked All States award that same evening, but the propagation never made it as far east as my location. Shortly after working Remi, I called my friend Dallas Ward, K1DW, and he was also able to work him on CW. K1DW is also located in EM40.”

Steve Moles, N5MX, of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, wrote: “I was able to work FR/DJ7RJ (Willi) on October 15 at approximately 1832 on 15 meters SSB. It was my first FR contact. Today (October 16) I heard and worked FR4NT (Cyril, on Reunion Island) on 10 meters SSB at approximately 1625. I had Cyril 59 into my home in Northern Oklahoma and he had me 59 into Reunion. Both QSOs are approximately 10,421 miles (16,771 km) from my home. What a difference a few sunspots make! I remember not too long ago having a solar flux index in the low 60s; today is only 138, but it makes so much difference. It is so nice to hear the upper bands open consistently.” Thanks, Steve for sharing the excitement!

Peter Dougherty, W2IRT, of West Caldwell, New Jersey, wrote on October 18: “With today’s SFI of 153, low Ap/Kp numbers and an smoothed sunspot number of 165, I naturally expected 10 meters to be decent, but I was not expecting this: I’ve been chasing new zones on 10 meters since things started to take off last month, but all the prediction software -- and even N6BT’s own awesomely detailed charts in The ARRL Antenna Book -- were saying zone 18 to zone 5 on 10 meters just wasn’t in the cards until the solar flux hit ‘very high’ levels, i.e. over 200. Just after noon local time, UA0BA from Norilsk was a solid S9 into New Jersey. This is more than six hours after his sunset at 69 degrees north latitude! I continued to listen and even 90 minutes later, he’d built up to S9+10dB peaking 20-over (albeit with more arctic flutter). Just a few minutes later, RI1FJA from Franz Josef Land was blasting through on 10 meters SSB, also peaking over S9.” Thanks, Peter. That’s fantastic. We are also seeing 10 meters open here worldwide on the West Coast as late as midnight!

Sylvain Faust, VE2FET, of Sainte Anne Des Lacs, Quebec, wrote: “I only had a few countries on 10 meters before Saturday. After three to four hours on Saturday and an hour or two on Sunday, I now have 109 countries on 10 meters! Amazing!”

Randy Crews, W7TJ, of Spokane, Washington, has achieved a state of radio bliss: “The time we have all been waiting for has arrived, Solar activity has advanced to the point where the high bands have really come alive, Solid propagation on 15 meters throughout the day, and worldwide openings on 10 and 12 meters - conditions not seen since 2003. Barring a major storm, the CQWW contest later this month should be hot, in addition to the ARRL 10 Meter Contest in December. The real ‘breakout’ occurred mid-February of this year as the sunspot count and solar flux clearly exceeded its 2.5 year doldrums lows and ushered in what we are seeing today. It has been a long, long dry spell for the higher bands, and now 10 and 12 meter DX spots dominate the packet clusters. There will be other dividends of the higher solar activity: Long path propagation on 20 meters will be a regular occurrence, along with increased night time propagation on 40, 30 and 80 meters as the F layers residual ionization holds through the night and into the morning gray line. Good times especially for us in the northern hemisphere, and for all.”

Jeff, N8II, wrote: “Conditions on 12 and 10 meters have been outstanding most days, with Mongolia logged on 12 meters around 2400 and China logged on both 12 and 10 from 23-0030. I had a drone of European signals calling, thanks to a cluster spot on 10 meters around 1500 on October 17; the loudest were S9+20dB. I also had a run of mostly Asiatic Russian stations on 10 meters on October 14 that lasted from 1315-1400, including a call from Kazakhstan. There were still loud Russians from around Moscow on 10 meters past 1500. Also, I was called by E21EJC in Thailand on 12 meters CW while working 4L1MA around 1320Z on the October 17. VU2GSM was loud on 10 meters SSB at around 1445 on the October 16. We have reached the point where good European openings occur almost daily on 10 and Japanese stations are loud as well about 70 percent of the time, with some JAs S9+20db, extremely loud for this area.”

All times listed are UTC, unless otherwise noted.

Amateur solar observer Tad Cook, K7RA, of Seattle, Washington, provides this weekly report on solar conditions and propagation. This report also is available via W1AW every Friday, and an abbreviated version appears each Thursday in The ARRL Letter. You can find a guide to articles and programs concerning propagation here. Check here and here for a detailed explanation of the numbers used in this bulletin. An archive of past propagation bulletins can be found here. You can find monthly propagation charts between four USA regions and 12 overseas locations here. Readers may contact the author via e-mail.



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