Posts Tagged ‘cycle 24’

Cycle 24 – Still Kicking

This week's Sun



Well, just when the sun was showing some nice signs of growing quiet for the upcoming winter, Cycle 24 has once again demonstrated that it's not going down without a fight.



For the past few weeks of quiet solar conditions, low band propagation, in spite of the time of year, had been performing well, with both 40 and 80m having a nice level of evening CW activity stretching out to the central states and to the east coast.

That all changed this week when the Sun let loose with a series of powerful flares, one of which was the strongest in a decade ... all very surprising for a Sun that has already shown us many days of spotless conditions as it winds its way to the bottom of the cycle.





With Solar Cycle 24 being one of the weakest on record, it has shown levels of activity on the way down that could rival the past few much stronger cycles in their waning years. Another oddity for this cycle was its 'double-peak', not unusual per se except that 24's second peak was the stronger of the two.

courtesy: http://www.solen.info/solar/

With the recent flaring and accompanying radio blackouts, HF propagation has been poor and with auroral conditions forecast for the arriving CMEs, it may take some time to recover, especially on LF and MF. But it may not be all bad.

Disturbances like this will normally affect E-W, polar and Trans-Atlantic paths more than N-S paths. Oftentimes, paths to South America on MF and HF will be enhanced as will the Trans-Pacific path, so all is not lost.

There are many websites devoted to providing a 'heads-up' to what might be coming geomagnetically-speaking. Two of my favorites are here and here.

The more northerly you are, the more disruption you will notice and for some reason, VE7 land seems particularly in-tune with solar perturbations as the slightest hiccup on the Sun seems to immediately wreak havoc here. Even amateurs a hundred miles to the south or southeast, enjoy markedly less disruption than us out here on Canada's western edge ... for some reason, we seem more tied-in to the auroral zone activity than we should, given our westerly location. Perhaps the zone dips lower in this region than it does further east but it is something I have observed on LF and MF for decades now.

It seems as though the first hit has just arrived so hold on to your hats:

Space Weather News for Sept. 7, 2017
http://spaceweather.com
https://www.facebook.com/spaceweatherdotcom

GEOMAGNETIC STORM WARNING: A CME has just hit Earth's magnetic field
(Sept. 7th at ~2300 UT). This is the debris from Wednesday's
decade-class X9 solar flare. It arrived earlier than expected,
confirming that the solar storm cloud is both fast and potent. The
CME appears to contain strong south-pointing magnetic fields that
typically do a good job of igniting geomagnetic storms. High-latitude
sky watchers should be alert for auroras in bright moonlight. Visit
Spaceweather.com for updates and more information about this developing event.




Hopefully the sun will outgrow its latest temper tantrum and get back to normal quickly so that this fall and winter will be one of the best for low band and MF work in the past decade ... with a quiet Sun, these frequencies can perform amazing magic at times.

Another Blast Coming

courtesy: https://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/




Speaking of 'everlasting', wimpy Solar Cycle 24 has been showing more energy in its death throws than it ever seemed to show during its peak.








It continues to blast earth with a never-ending series of coronal hole streams leading to periods of high signal absorption (particularly on the lower frequencies) and widespread auroras.

The present rip in the Sun's surface is the same one that caused major disruptions during the last solar rotation. Geomagnetic storming and propagation disruptions are forecast to begin around the 28th, with a proviso ... these ones could be even worse than last time as the wind's polarity at present is favorable to greater coupling with the Earth's magnetosphere, sending the Earth's Bz southward (negative) into auroral producing, prop-killing conditions.

Sometimes, though not normally, these events can produce periods of enhanced low frequency propagation, especially during the hours just before the event's commencement ... the best thing to do is just continue to operate normally and not assume the worst. I've been guilty of this in the past and being caught off guard, have missed some better than usual LF propagation.

 I'll keep my fingers crossed over the next few days and think positive ... Bz-wise!

Another Blast Coming

courtesy: https://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/




Speaking of 'everlasting', wimpy Solar Cycle 24 has been showing more energy in its death throws than it ever seemed to show during its peak.








It continues to blast earth with a never-ending series of coronal hole streams leading to periods of high signal absorption (particularly on the lower frequencies) and widespread auroras.

The present rip in the Sun's surface is the same one that caused major disruptions during the last solar rotation. Geomagnetic storming and propagation disruptions are forecast to begin around the 28th, with a proviso ... these ones could be even worse than last time as the wind's polarity at present is favorable to greater coupling with the Earth's magnetosphere, sending the Earth's Bz southward (negative) into auroral producing, prop-killing conditions.

Sometimes, though not normally, these events can produce periods of enhanced low frequency propagation, especially during the hours just before the event's commencement ... the best thing to do is just continue to operate normally and not assume the worst. I've been guilty of this in the past and being caught off guard, have missed some better than usual LF propagation.

 I'll keep my fingers crossed over the next few days and think positive ... Bz-wise!

Bureau QSL Batch



The batch of bureau cards last week included several cards from Europe and were probably the last I'll get for my Cycle 24 10m fun, using the homebrew Tri-Tet-Ten.


As mentioned previously, this rig was the culmination of wondering, for many many years, if I could get a single 6L6 to work well enough on 10m CW, using a 40m crystal ... quadrupling to 10m ... and still have enough useful output to work Europe! As well, the note would have to be 'acceptable' as I realized that any crystal chirping would be multiplied four times, during the quadrupling process.



The evolution of my eventual transmitter, is described in more detail here, where you can also hear what the tone sounds like. Suffice to say, the results were much more than I had ever hoped for and during the peak years of this past cycle, many enjoyable hours were spent on 10m CW with my one tube tri-tet crystal oscillator.

I guess I could always move down to 20m CW but, for me, this just doesn't have the same appeal or sense of satisfaction as using it on 10m or what I like to call, "the other magic band". Who knows what Cycle 25 will bring to 10m? I may get another chance yet, if the solar prognosticators are all wrong!

Challenging Topband

The 'Half-Sloper'
My recent 'topband' blog prompted me to think about some of the more interesting 160m contacts that I've made over the years. Although my first contacts were made just after getting my ticket in the early 60's, I really didn't have more than a couple of watts out of my modified Heathkit DX-20 ... coupled to a short 'longwire', each contact from my mid-Vancouver location was more of a miracle than anything else.


When I purchased my first house in the suburbs in '74, I was finally able to put up a real antenna ... a 'half-sloper', fed from the top of my new 48' tower, along with an extensive set of radials running along the perimeters of my yard. I also hung both 80 and 40m half-slopers from the same feedpoint, giving me coverage on all three of the low bands.

Once the Japanese manufacturers started adding 160m coverage to the various lines of transceivers, the band really started to get popular, as up until that time, very few commercial transmitters covered 160m. Most of the E.F. Johnsons, the DX-100, and some of the late Drake radios were doing the heavy-lifting unless one was enterprising enough to homebrew or modify a rig for 160.

I immediately set out to work all 50 states from my suburban location, running a pair of 6146's at around 150 watts input. It took me a few winters to get them all, with Rhode Island being the most difficult, at #50.
My 160m W.A.S. certificate was #264.

Conditions always varied with the solar cycle but a surprising amount of DX was worked at my low power level. A couple of the more memorable contacts from those days were with H44IA in the Solomons and with VK9NS, on Norfolk Island.


H44IA was worked at 0426 local time in February. I recall calling several JA stations that morning with no response (I always found difficulty working JA on 160) and was more than surprised when the H44 came right back to my response to his CQ.


Jim Smith, VK9NS (SK), seemingly spent more time at various exotic locations than at home. Over the years I was able to work him on a number of his Pacific-island expeditions, but it was gratifying to finally catch him from another rare spot ... his home! This contact was in mid-July, right at sunrise.

I've worked a number of island expeditions over the years on topband, but one of the rarest was in the mid-Indian Ocean, FT5ZM, on Amsterdam Island ... also right at sunrise.


Another 'closer' island has always been a bit rare on 160, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba ... worked in mid- February, just after midnight.


In all of my years in the suburbs, I was never able to hear Europe on topband. It seemed that the noise-curtain surrounding my reasonably quiet location was still just too high for such 'over the pole' west coast treats. It wasn't until I moved to Mayne Island, off the SW coast of B.C., and re-installed my half-sloper, that the Europeans finally began to fill my log. Some nights, during solar-low years, the Europeans were workable before sunset ... on other nights, there were no signals other than Europeans, filling the band from 1800-1830, at times making the topband sound like 20m CW ... definitely not like the city.

4Z1UF was worked in February, just after 8PM local time while R1FJT in Franz Josef Land was worked right at sunset in late October.



Africa is always tough on the low bands but the solar-low years of Cycle 23 brought some amazingly good conditions to the west coast. The two new ones, below, were both worked in November of '08 at around 10PM local time, right at sunrise in Africa.



Learning the quirks of topband propagation is still an ongoing project but over the years, 160m has been my favorite wintertime hangout. With T2GC on Tuvalu Island, worked last week, my present 160m DXCC total stands at 156 worked and 155 confirmed.

If you're looking for something different, some new fun... a bit of an operating challenge ... I know you'll find it on topband!

The Best Laid Plans …

courtesy: www.kcj-cw.com/
I am often brutally reminded of how much influence our Sun has on propagation, both good and bad!

Hoping to enjoy some further contest work and improve my ear-brain-keyboarding skills, I had prepared everything for this Saturday's 24-hour 'KCJ' Contest. The 'Keymen's Club of Japan' is an annual affair that seems to attract a lot of domestic JA activity, with bonus points when they work any DX stations. I checked my N1MM Logger software but it didn't seem to have the contest. I did find it in the program's UDC (User Defined Contests) section but had to download and install a unique 'Sections' file from a Japanese website, as the contest requires the Japanese to exchange their Prefecture abbreviations. I eventually had N1MM working perfectly for the KCJ contest and with the contest starting at 0500 locally, I tuned up everything for the normally excellent 40m path to Japan in the morning and went to bed.

courtesy: http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/
Rising just a few minutes before the contest start, a quick check of 40m indicated that something was not right ... not a JA to be heard, in fact almost no signals to be heard! Checking the web for more info, I quickly discovered a 'K' index of '7', indicative of very disturbed conditions. Along with a strong southerly pointed Bz, it seemed that we were in the middle of some strong auroral conditions ... back to bed with hopes of the afternoon 15 or 20m path to Japan being better.

The afternoon path never really materialized either. Normally, propagation between the west coast and Japan is very good, with lots of strong signals being the norm ... but not today. Over the course of several hours, only four JA stations found their way into my log, and they were all a struggle.

courtesy: http://wdc.kugi.kyoto-u.ac.jp/dstdir/index.html

The earth had been hit, rather unexpectedly, by another whopping 'coronal hole stream' and propagation was truly dismal. With only a smidgen of keyboarding practice, I had to admit defeat ... the Sun had messed things up once again, as it has been doing for the past year as Cycle 24 slowly slides downhill. Unfortunately there is always a lot more flaring and streaming on the way down than on the way up. Hopefully the Sun will soon get this out of its system and radio conditions will quiet down and stabilize for the upcoming fall and winter DX season.

There is one more chance left, this evening, to get in some more keyboarding practice. The 'Flying Pigs QRP Group' holds their monthly 'Run For The Bacon' CW QSO party, starting at 0100Z tonight. Non-members may also join in the fun by sending their 'power' level instead of a membership number ... so maybe I'll run into you tonight.


Now it's back to N1MM to reconfigure for the QRP Party and hope that old Sol will co-operate for the Sunday night crowd, but you know what they say about the 'best laid plans...'




Solar Cycle 25 and Beyond

courtesy: SOHO (ESA & NASA)
Britains' Royal Astronomical Society has just announced yet another new model of the Sun’s solar cycle ... one that is producing unprecedentedly accurate predictions of irregularities within the Sun’s 11-year heartbeat.
If the model is correct,  the outlook for the next several cycles does not look good. The modelling describes the interaction of two levels of the sun ... one near the surface and one much deeper.

Prof Valentina Zharkova and her colleagues, of  Northumbria University, have:

"... found magnetic wave components appearing in pairs, originating in two different layers in the Sun's interior. They both have a frequency of approximately 11 years, although this frequency is slightly different, and they are offset in time. Over the cycle, the waves fluctuate between the northern and southern hemispheres of the Sun. Combining both waves together and comparing to real data for the current solar cycle, we found that our predictions showed an accuracy of 97%." 

Zharkova's team analyzed data from California's Wilcox Solar Observatory, covering three solar cycles worth of activity from 1976-2008. All of their modelling predictions and observations were closely matched.

"Looking ahead to the next solar cycles, the model predicts that the pair of waves become increasingly offset during Cycle 25, which peaks in 2022. During Cycle 26, which covers the decade from 2030-2040, the two waves will become exactly out of synch and this will cause a significant reduction in solar activity."

This is not great news for HF DXers and 6 meter diehards as it sounds like the present wimpy cycle (Cycle 24) may have been a monster in comparison to what lies ahead. The one bright light is the likelihood of amazingly good low band (160, 80, 40m) conditions for many, many winters.

I recall just how good conditions became on 160m during the solar-quiet winters between Cycle 23 and the eventual late start of Cycle 24. Night after night, the band opened to Europe like clockwork. Many nights the skip was so long that no signals from the U.S. could be heard at all ... just Europeans, often reaching 599 on my FT-1000's S-meter. At times I had to shake my head and double check that it was really 160m that I was listening to.

LF and MF conditions were equally enhanced as the lack of D-layer absorption from a very quiet sun made tuning through the NDB band sound like 20m CW during the Sweepstakes Contest ... truly once-in-a-lifetime conditions ... but maybe not if Zharkova's model is as accurate as she claims.

I guess we'll just have to wait a few more years to find out.

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