The K7RA Solar Update


Snow has fallen all week here in Seattle, and the Sun is still void of spots. We last saw sunspots on December 10, 11 and 12. The solar flux -- a measure of 2.8 GHz radio energy from our Sun -- has been running between 68-69 for weeks, except for December 10-12, when it was 70-71, coincident with the appearance of sunspots. Now, NOAA and the US Air Force are predicting solar flux for today, December 26, at 70; for December 27-January 5, the prediction is 71. Perhaps this indicates sunspot activity rotating into view.

Sunspot numbers for December 18-24 were 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0 and 0 with a mean of 0. The 10.7 cm flux was 68.4, 69.2, 69.1, 68, 67.7, 68.6 and 69.4 with a mean of 68.6. The estimated planetary A indices were 1, 3, 2, 2, 4, 9 and 5 with a mean of 3.7. The estimated mid-latitude A indices were 0, 2, 2, 1, 3, 8 and 5 with a mean of 3. On December 7, a possible sunspot group was detected on our Sun's far side, and on December 23 another spot, this time in the southern hemisphere on the far side of the Sun.

The same NOAA/USAF forecast shows more of the very quiet conditions we've seen for some time now, with planetary A index at 5. Some unsettled conditions are forecast for January 1-2, with planetary A index rising to 8, then 10, before settling back to 5 again. Geophysical Institute Prague predicts quiet conditions continuing December 26-30, quiet to unsettled December 31 and unsettled January 1.

Duane Heise, AA6EE, of Ramona, California, is interested in calculating sunrise/sunset times for his location. A good resource is the US Naval Observatory.

If you need to convert a location from decimal notation to degrees/minutes/seconds, it is easy: Suppose you have latitude of 47.857 degrees. Multiply .857 by 60 to get 51.42 minutes, multiply .42 by 60 to get 25.2 seconds. Now you have 47 degrees, 51 minutes, 25 seconds. Since we have rounded the seconds off to 25, we can go the other direction to demonstrate the method for deriving the corresponding decimal notation: (25/3600) + (51/60) + 47 is approximately 47.856944 degrees.

We've had more comments about the ARRL 10 Meter Contest of a couple of weeks back. Ken Wood, N5NX, of The Colony, Texas, uses a very simple 10 meter antenna and about 90 W. He wrote, "On Sunday morning of the 10 Meter Contest, there was a strong opening from the Dallas area to the north. I easily worked Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania."

Dave Stucky, AB7Q, of Bend, Oregon, writes "Here in Central Oregon, the conditions were a pleasant surprise. Saturday morning started with K7ES in Hillsboro (Portland) with a strong signal here in Bend about 150 miles away. His signal was heard throughout most of the openings on both days. After that, some San Francisco Bay Area stations were heard and worked, then nothing but Colorado stations, most very strong. The E-skip then swung south with nothing heard but AZ. Behind the AZ stations were a few LU and PY, I worked LU1HF. Then briefly, the East Coast was there and I worked SC, GA and KS. This was all between 8 AM and noon PST. The pattern was very similar on Sunday morning, with some Southern California stations there with Arizona. Again, toward the end of the opening, LS1D was worked both CW and phone. My assumption is that the E-skip to South America was multi-hop in conjunction with equatorial E-skip. No real activity to speak of in the evenings, though some occasional scattered voices were heard. I was reading about E-skip on the computer while I was casually operating. What an amazing propagation mode! All in all, in casual operation I worked 60 stations in 10 states (Oregon, California, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Kansas, South Carolina and Georgia), along with LU and PJ2. I heard the CX station pile-up, but did not get through. I was using 75 W to a tri-bander at 55 feet."

Jon Jones, N0JK, of Wichita, Kansas, ran 5 W in the 10 Meter Contest to the same 100 foot wire tacked to his house that he used for the ARRL 160 Meter Contest. He wrote, "I could work most stations heard on E-skip -- and even a few on meteors -- if I timed my calls on over-dense bursts. Nice E-skip opening Saturday evening to Florida.There was E-skip all day Sunday, starting at 1500 UTC to northeast, with K1ZZ in Connecticut starting things off. Later, I had E-skip to the Atlantic seaboard and southeastern states. The best DX was PJ2T and LU1HF! They sounded like an E-skip-to-F2 type link. I had strong E-skip to Louisiana and Florida the same time they were in. I almost logged PY3MHZ; he heard me, but faded as he gave his exchange. Thanks also to XE2S and XE2/N7DD for Mexico. There was very loud E-skip to Colorado at the end of the contest. K0FX, K0MF, W0ETT were all 599+ 60! I ran off 11 Colorado QSOs in 5 minutes -- it was like shooting ducks in a barrel for a flea power station. I picked up KD0S in South Dakota and K0PK in Minnesota in the last few minutes for new mults. Lots of radio fun for 5 W and a $4 wire antenna!"

You can read soapbox comments for the 10 meter contest here. For regular weekly updates of 10 meter activity in Europe, check Tony's 10 Metre Report.

Bill Van Alstyne, W5WVO, of Rio Rancho, New Mexico, sent in a piece on working meteor scatter on 6 meters with the WSJT digital mode, which he has been doing since the beginning of 2008. Bill wrote:

"While we had a fairly decent summer sporadic-E season in 2008, there were of course those awful other months of nothing, nothing, nothing -- or so I had always thought. Actually, there is propagation on 6 meters 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, due to tiny meteoric particles falling to Earth and burning up. Because most of these meteors are tiny and relatively low-velocity, the ionization trails they leave only last for a few tenths of a second, not enough time to get any kind of message across using SSB or CW. But with FSK441, Joe Taylor's MS-optimized digital mode, a complete exchange can be transmitted, propagated, and decoded in as little as 150 ms. Yes, that's 0.15 seconds.

"Meteor showers, when they are good, can produce ionization 'burns' that last tens of seconds -- sometimes even for minutes! But for reasons not entirely understood, the known meteor showers that used to produce spectacular VHF propagation for a few days at regular intervals throughout the year, just aren't doing so these days. More and more, therefore, MS communication takes place using the new WSJT digital modes and 'pings' -- ionization trails that persists for a second or less and are probably made by meteors about the size of a grain of sand -- or a spec of dust! This is where MS becomes real weak-signal work, and is very challenging.

"So how have I done? Pretty good! Since last January 1, 2008, I've worked 30 states plus Canada and Mexico, comprising a total of 94 grid squares, on 6 meter MS using the WSJT digital modes. The problem is that there are not nearly enough hams who are set up to use WSJT. Whether this is from lack of interest or just lack of information, I don't know -- but it's really tons of fun!

"This is the place to go to find out more about meteor scatter propagation on 6 and 2 meters. This is where 'ping jockeys' hang out, make skeds with each other to try to complete MS QSOs and generally discuss this aspect of the hobby. There are links here to documents that describe how the MS protocols work. The other vital place to go on the web is Joe Taylor's page, where his WSJT software can be downloaded for free."

Thanks, Bill! Very interesting.

Don't forget ARRL Straight Key Night, beginning 0000 UTC on January 1, running for 24 hours.

Finally, check out this simple project for converting a standard compact florescent lamp to an 80 meter transmitter, on the AA1TJ Web site.

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 in The ARRL Letter. Check 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.