The K7RA Solar Update
Monday revealed another shy sunspot. Sunspot 1011 appeared suddenly, and then it was gone. Its configuration and location did not identify it as belonging to either Solar Cycle 23 or 24. On Monday, January 19 the sunspot number was 13. Sunspot numbers for January 15-21 were 0, 0, 0, 0, 13, 0 and 0 with a mean of 1.9. The 10.7 cm flux was 71, 71, 72, 71, 71, 70 and 69 with a mean of 70.7. The estimated planetary A indices were 4, 2, 2, 2, 9, 3 and 2 with a mean of 3.4. The estimated mid-latitude A indices were 4, 2, 2, 2, 7, 1 and 2 with a mean of 2.9.
Geomagnetic conditions continued to be very quiet. Thursday, January 22, was another exceptionally quiet day, similar to January 12 and December 28-30. You can check this Web site to see all those zeroes. This bodes well for the CQ World Wide 160 Meter CW Contest this weekend. Planetary A index is predicted at 5 until January 27-31, when the predicted values are 10, 8, 5, 8 and 5.
Geophysical Institute Prague predicts quiet geomagnetic activity January 23-25, quiet to unsettled January 26, unsettled January 27, quiet to unsettled January 28 and back to quiet by January 29.
A hiccup in the data stream this week occurred on Thursday afternoon, when a geo-alert message sent via e-mail from Australia's IPS Radio and Space Services turned out to be a vicious anti-Semitic screed broadcast during a security breach. I phoned the duty forecaster in Sydney, New South Wales, who verified it was a security problem that their IT staff was investigating. You can subscribe to these alerts via their Web page. Among many interesting Web pages they have is one devoted to sunspot numbers, both past and predicted.
Still another reporting glitch this week was from NOAA with the daily 45-day prediction of solar flux values and planetary A index. On some days they will issue more than one report if their forecast changes. But on Tuesday, January 20, the report at 2059 UTC had four more reports until 0039 UTC, and all of them appeared to contain identical data. We contacted Viola Raben at the Space Weather Prediction Center, who said the Air Force (with whom NOAA collaborates with on this forecast) had a glitch which caused the posting of an additional forecast every time they tested something in their system.
Steve Friis, WM5Z of Las Cruces, New Mexico, reminded us of a nifty Firefox Web browser extension that fetches solar indices automatically and displays them in the lower-right information bar. It is called Propfire, and Steve notes that you can install it in Firefox by clicking on "Tools" at the top, then "Add-ons."
In the search field, enter Propfire, and "N0HR Propfire" will display. Clicking "Add to Firefox" installs it. When I set Propfire up, I noticed that it has an option to display current sunspot number in addition to the usual solar flux, A and K index. Firefox is an open source Web browser, similar to Microsoft's Internet Explorer, but it is produced free by a community of programmers, similar to the way the Linux operating system is built and maintained. You can download Firefox here.
Jeff Hartley, N8II, of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, reported disappointing conditions last Saturday, January 17. He wrote, "It seemed like the worst day I can remember for low solar activity, long skip zones and early closure of 20 meters to Europe. I took part in the HA DX contest, and by about 1610 UTC, only a very few Europeans were left on 20 meters. Before that, signals were much weaker than normal, but some Moscow-area stations were heard around 1300 UTC as well as Scandinavia, so there was no big disturbance. Then, the NAQP SSB started (North American QSO Party, sponsored by National Contest Journal) at 1800 UTC; skip zones were very long - I only worked California and Oregon on 15 and 20 meters. This was the worst ever probably in NAQP, with Texas about the closest state that could be worked most of the day."
Hartley continued: "I worked two very loud unfluttery KL7s on 20 and loud VE7s, so the K had to be low. Forty was skipping over most of New England by about 2030 UTC (1-1/2 hours before sunset) and the closest signals to the south were in South Carolina. Conditions did rebound a bit on Sunday and there was some sporadic-E to the northwest at times. I was able to work W0GXQ/M (a very hearty soul, not a necessary trip, just putting out counties for the county hunters) on 40-10 meters from one county line in central North Dakota around 16 UTC, and we made 15 meters a couple of times. I heard Michigan loud around 21 UTC on 20 meters. There may have been an E-skip opening on 6 meters in the VHF Sweepstakes, but I didn't take part."
Early this morning, January 23, Hartley followed up: "Things seem much better this week with two nights of openings to Europe on 30 meters at sunset, as opposed to nothing after 1700-1800 UTC from Europe in quite a few days. 160 was in great shape early Friday today with UA9MA, OY9JD (loud), 4Z5KJ, several UA3s and 4s working as far as Arizona, and HA3MU S9 + 15 dB in the 0100 UTC hour; SM4CAN was also S9+. And I worked 4S7NE on 80 CW at the same time."
An interesting e-mail about possible meteor scatter communications on 60 meters arrived from Larry Jones, K5ZRK, who operates next to Tallahalla Swamp in Sandersville, which is in southern Mississippi, about 31.78 degrees north latitude. "I operate only 60 meters and only operate QRP! I do a lot of operating and run a lot of skeds, therefore propagation is very important. I use a quarter-wave vertical antenna insulated from ground, with 120 quarter wavelength radials, and all those are tied into a 1.6 acre chain link fence surrounding my property. I also use a 60 meter inverted V on transmit when I am working close in stations. I use a low 60 meter inverted V on receive so that I can reduce the noise and the preamp on my ICOM 703."
Jones continued: "Frequently during skeds at night, I hear what seems to be meteor burst. I also hear these early in the morning when working the gray line. This is not always the case so that makes me wonder if there are meteor bursts on 60 meters. I was an avid meteor scatter operator back in the early 90s with my old call WB5KYK and I ran on 6. 2 and 432, but I sit there for hours listening to this when running skeds on 60 meters. I can remember on 6 meters I would get upset when there was e-skip during a meteor shower because the e-skip would ruin the shower, I would be working e-skip instead of meteor scatter. The propagation on this band is fascinating to me, the gray line is phenomenal on this band and running QRP (10 W on SSB) I have worked into Hawaii, and California is not hard. Skeds are so interesting on this band, but this phenomenon I am observing has me puzzled because it sounds like meteor scatter. If it isn't, then what is it? This can be a useful tool if I can just figure out what the heck it is and to further give you something to think about, I observe this even more so during meteor showers and during the early morning hours (1100-1239 UTC, which is when meteors are prevalent)."
Interesting information; it makes sense that ionized trails from meteors could provide a sporadic-E-like propagation path, even on 60 meters. Carl Luetzelschwab, K9LA, commented that meteor scatter has been detected at 2 MHz, and pointed out a PhD thesis titled "Medium Frequency Radar Studies of Meteors," by Stephen I. Grant, July 2003 at the University Of Adelaide Department Of Physics that describes this.
In a subsequent e-mail, Jones wrote, "Next month there will be two showers that are classed as medium showers. I hope to set up some skeds for both. I think one of the things that is interesting about meteor scatter on 60 meters is the antenna issue: What would be the best antenna for meteor scatter on this band? I feel this is something we will learn by experience and this band is not old enough yet for us to know what is going to work best, especially when it comes to propagation. It seems it would be somewhere between the propagation on 80 and 40 meters, but I have found this band to be a totally different creature!"
Finally, Spaceweather.com has a fun tool for displaying a graph of 11 years of smoothed sunspot numbers, centered on any date you choose, going back over 250 years. What was sunspot activity like when you were born? Check it out!
Note: In our data, we do not have solar flux resolved to a tenth of a point as we usually do. We have not been able to access the data from the observatory in Penticton on Thursday night and Friday morning, so these are the numbers provided from NOAA.
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.