Posts Tagged ‘science’

Five X-class (Major) X-ray Flares in a Row (plus more!)

Well, thankfully, this is not happening during this contest weekend: one of the largest sunspot regions during this Sunspot Cycle 24, and one of the biggest in several decades, gave us quite a show, back in October 2014.

Five major X-class (very strong) and a number of moderate and “mild” solar x-ray flares erupted from a single sunspot region – this video covers the time period of October 19-27, 2014, as captured by NASA’s SDO spacecraft. This is from what has been one of the biggest sunspot regions in a number of decades.

Between October 19 and October 27, 2014, a particularly large active region on the Sun dispatched many intense x-ray flares. This region, labeled by NOAA as Active Region (AR) number 12192 (or, simply, NOAA AR 12192, and shortened as AR 2192), is the largest in 24 years (at that point in Solar Cycle 24).

The various video segments track this sunspot region during this period (Oct. 19 – Oct.27, 2014), during which we can see the intense explosions. There are five X-class flares during this time, and NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which watches the sun constantly, captured these images of the event.

Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

When referring to these intense solar eruptions, the letter part of the classification, ‘X’, means, ‘X-class’. This denotes the most intense flares, while the number, after the classification letter, provides more information about its strength. For example, an X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, and so forth.

Solar Images Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center & SDO ~

73 de NW7US

Watch stunning highlights, last 5 years of the Sun

We rely on the Sun for HF radio communication propagation. For the last five years, we have an amazing front-row seat: the SDO spacecraft. Here is a video with highlights of the last five years of solar activity as seen by NASA and the SDO AIA spacecraft. This is worth seeing on a larger monitor, so try to view it full screen on something larger than your palm. The music is pretty good too. It is worth the 20-some minutes of stunning viewing. Be sure to share!




This video features stunning clips of the Sun, captured by SDO from each of the five years since SDO’s deployment in 2010. In this movie, watch giant clouds of solar material hurled out into space, the dance of giant loops hovering in the corona, and huge sunspots growing and shrinking on the Sun’s surface.

April 21, 2015 marks the five-year anniversary of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) First Light press conference, where NASA revealed the first images taken by the spacecraft. Since then, SDO has captured amazingly stunning super-high-definition images in multiple wavelengths, revealing new science, and captivating views.

February 11, 2015 marks five years in space for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which provides incredibly detailed images of the whole Sun 24 hours a day. February 11, 2010, was the day on which NASA launched an unprecedented solar observatory into space. The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) flew up on an Atlas V rocket, carrying instruments that scientists hoped would revolutionize observations of the Sun.

Capturing an image more than once per second, SDO has provided an unprecedentedly clear picture of how massive explosions on the Sun grow and erupt. The imagery is also captivating, allowing one to watch the constant ballet of solar material through the sun’s atmosphere, the corona.

The imagery in this “highlight reel” provide us with examples of the kind of data that SDO provides to scientists. By watching the sun in different wavelengths (and therefore different temperatures, each “seen” at a particular wavelength that is invisible to the unaided eye) scientists can watch how material courses through the corona. SDO captures images of the Sun in 10 different wavelengths, each of which helps highlight a different temperature of solar material. Different temperatures can, in turn, show specific structures on the Sun such as solar flares or coronal loops, and help reveal what causes eruptions on the Sun, what heats the Sun’s atmosphere up to 1,000 times hotter than its surface, and why the Sun’s magnetic fields are constantly on the move.

Coronal loops are streams of solar material traveling up and down looping magnetic field lines). Solar flares are bursts of light, energy and X-rays. They can occur by themselves or can be accompanied by what’s called a coronal mass ejection, or CME, in which a giant cloud of solar material erupts off the Sun, achieves escape velocity and heads off into space.

This movie shows examples of x-ray flares, coronal mass ejections, prominence eruptions when masses of solar material leap off the Sun, much like CMEs. The movie also shows sunspot groups on the solar surface. One of these sunspot groups, a magnetically strong and complex region appearing in mid-January 2014, was one of the largest in nine years as well as a torrent of intense solar flares. In this case, the Sun produced only flares and no CMEs, which, while not unheard of, is somewhat unusual for flares of that size. Scientists are looking at that data now to see if they can determine what circumstances might have led to flares eruptions alone.

Scientists study these images to better understand the complex electromagnetic system causing the constant movement on the sun, which can ultimately have an effect closer to Earth, too: Flares and another type of solar explosion called coronal mass ejections can sometimes disrupt technology in space as well as on Earth (disrupting shortwave communication, stressing power grids, and more). Additionally, studying our closest star is one way of learning about other stars in the galaxy.

Goddard built, operates and manages the SDO spacecraft for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. SDO is the first mission of NASA’s Living with a Star Program. The program’s goal is to develop the scientific understanding necessary to address those aspects of the sun-Earth system that directly affect our lives and society.

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Music Via YouTube “Free-for-use” Creation Tools

Video clips of the Sun are from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO which are in the Public Domain

By the way, this is an example of what I am trying to produce on a more regular basis, once I launch the space weather YouTube channel that I have started. If you wish to help, here is the GoFundMe link:


Signal and Noise

“One man’s signal is another man’s noise,” began Dr. Kudeki as he derived incoherent scatter radar theory from Nyquist’s noise theorem in ECE458.  I think of that statement often, whether it be QRM on the ham bands or sifting through the pocket litter of web users looking for their consumption preferences.

This morning, I admired just such an example of signal and noise while watching the NOAA Doppler weather radar.  Undesired targets of a radar that return echoes are termed “clutter” in the radar parlance and one simplistic way of eliminating clutter, especially when you expect the desired scatterers (“targets”) to move, is to assume that all of the stationary returns are clutter.  In the weather radar, we get clutter from all sorts of stationary things like trees, hills, and buildings.  Of course, what causes the clutter to move?

You see, it was one of those humid August mornings when a ham’s mind wanders to…tropospheric ducting.  Yes, indeed the clutter returns were moving, intensifying before and after sunrise.  I was fixated on this and watched the loop over and over again before noticing an even more interesting bit of clutter!


Beginning at 0958 UT on 4 August 2014, there is a small ring forming out over the Elk River area.  The ring, which is indicated by the downward-pointing vertical arrows, expanded over the next >40 minutes.  I was puzzled and watched the loop over and over.  I considered and discarded a number of theories before resorting to Google.  Apparently, it’s very likely a flock of birds.  Sure enough, the epicenter of the ring is Elk Neck State Park.  Fascinating.

The slanted arrows in the figure above indicates the ground clutter that I was originally noticing as a signature of tropo ducting, obviously now of secondary interest in this sequence of images!

Epilogue:  I sent these frames to my father, who is an avid observer of the natural world.  He passed them along to two friends back home who are birders.  At press time, one reported that he had learned of these “bird circles” from Greg Miller, another birder from the area who got famous as one of the subjects of the book (and movie of the same title) The Big Year.  I haven’t read/seen it, but I guess they went to Adak, which has a special place in my heart.  Anyhow, it’s a funny small and interesting world in which we live.




An annually-recurring professional meeting has started to put me in interesting DX locales.  This year was no different: the meeting was held at UNIS (University Centre in Svalbard) in Longyearbyen, Svalbard.  My friend and colleague, Nathaniel, W2NAF, did a semester of his graduate studies at UNIS and was excited to return for the meeting.  He suggested that the JW5E clubstation “hut” (depicted below) might be both an attractive lodging option for cost, location, and of course, radio.  The hut is a bit rustic with no running water but we did manage to maintain a nearly professional level of appearance and personal hygene due to Nathaniel’s insider knowledge.


As is typical for the kind of travel I do, there was no straightforward way to get from A to B.  Nathaniel and my flight schedules put us into Longyearbyen (via London, Oslo, and Tromso, in my case) on Friday and Saturday, respectively, giving us a shot at the CQ WPX CW contest.  We elected to operate this under our own callsigns, which proved to be a bit of a limitation since for much of the contest 20 meters was the only band that produced rates.  So, we had to share 20m.  Nathaniel operated high power using the JW5E FT-1000MP mkV and Icom IC-2KL amplifier connected to the JW5E antenna system.  I operated low power with my K2/100 and the JW5E antennas.  He came out a little bit ahead on QSOs and pretty far ahead on points, mostly due to the day of head start and effectively exploiting 20m.  I also worked a lot of empty-calorie EU stations while he focused on 3-pt DX stations.  Despite our initial optimism, neither of us were particularly dedicated to a full effort in the contest.  We both had a bit of trouble adapting to polar day and slept through prime openings on Sunday.

40 meters and lower frequency bands were useless, as were 10 and 12 meters. Nathaniel and I did work each other on 160 with the power turned all the way down.  And, of course we worked each other in the contest for an easy prefix multiplier.  The 12m situation was a little disappointing since I know a lot of people needed JW there.  Had we been there in March, it probably would have been open.  I worked two CTs and that’s it.

During the week of the meetings, I only managed 1-2 of hours operating each day, and Nathaniel maybe a little more.  We developed a protocol of uploading to LoTW first thing in the morning when we got to the meeting (where we had free network access, versus roaming 3G on my phone at JW5E).  Since I don’t use ClubLog, this is a good way for DXers to see if they’re in the log and get a quick confirmation.  As I told a DXer who thanked me profusely for doing it, my employment covers the largest costs of my DX travel and my operating is secondary to my work.  Therefore, I feel no need to extract or solicit donations from DXers. I am ordering cards today and they will be ready to mail in a week or two.

On the last night, I put in a solid 6 hours of operating, making about 600 QSOs in one sitting.  30m was always a struggle with most signals right near the noise level.  The other bands (15/17/20) produced big signals and were pretty easy to work.  I’m always a bit slow to operate split because I don’t want to use more bandwidth than necessary.  With an amp, I could probably have operated simplex most of the time.  Usually once people stop coming back to my 599s or they start duping me mercilessly, I know it’s time to split the pile.

The pileups were generally very responsive to my instructions with only one station really raising my blood pressure to the point that I QRT’ed to cool off.  Based on his profile and how loud he was compared to all the stations he was obliterating, he was running as much as 4 kW on 30m.  Good show.

I heard that someone on a DX club e-mail list suggested that I go next to Jan Mayen (JX).  Please negotiate that with my wife and we can work something out. Don’t forget to include that Jan Mayen has one flight per month.  My Norwegian colleagues were amused by this and asked also about Bouvet (3Y).  Only scientists and hams know about Bouvet and Jan Mayen.  Seriously, if I didn’t have a young family, I would consider doing that sort of thing, but I miss them too much when I travel.  The next DX trip will be someplace warmer with regular commercial air service.


I’m still sort of converging on the best equipment for portable DX operating. While I like the K3 a lot, the K2 is a bit smaller.  In its flight case, it fits under all airliner seats and not just some of them like the K3.  Although it is a stupendous performer, the K2 has some idiosyncrasies occasionally cause me to notice that it’s not as well integrated as the K3 and modern JA radios.  The diminutive size and negligible RF emissions from the MRF-4125 switching power supply are big pros, but I noticed the fan making a particularly awful noise on this trip.  Need to look into that.  The K1EL WKUSB continues to be a star performer for computer and hand keying.  While I love the action of the Palm Mini paddle, the lack of a solid base can be frustrating.  I brought the recently-mounted Schurr Einbau and it sang. Although, it produces the best reactions from security screeners: “What is it?  Is it an antique?”  And, my favorite from a screener in Longyearbyen: “Is that the new iPhone?”

The real stars of this operation were the Etymotic Research MC5 in-ear monitor earphones.  Wow.  I’ve been using them for a couple of months now at the recommendation of someone on the Elecraft reflector and they are my new favorite headphones for travel.  They do excellent with noise isolation on long-haul flights and in noisy QTHs; they reproduce music flawlessly; you don’t have to turn the volume up to 11 to hear with them; and they fit in a tiny little pouch that’s smaller than a deck of playing cards.  And the best part?  They only cost 60 USD.

The GU Special came along on this trip but was not needed since I had access to an OptiBeam for 20/17/15 meters, dipoles for 30/40/80, and a Cushcraft R7 vertical for 40-10 meters.  I was tempted to take my gear on the 8-hr boat trip we took up another fjord.  However, I decided against it for a variety of reasons including the desire to do some birdwatching and look for polar bears—we saw some seals and an artic fox but no bears.  The seals and the fox amounted to no more than a couple of pixels in the photos I tried to shoot of them, even with a modest 200mm telephoto lens.  OK, that’s a short lens by wildlife photo standards.  Please accept this puffin photo in place of a bear photo.


And the Tempelfjorden glacier and sea ice shot from my phone…


This photo is looking back up Adventfjorden toward Longyearbyen and shows the JW5E tower right near the water in the center.  (The heftier one on the right.) Also in the background are the dishes for the EISCAT Svalbard incoherent scatter radar.

And a photo from our visit to EISCAT in tracked vehicles.  It was practically June and there was a lot of snow on the ground.


Finally, here are two YouTube videos related to our operation.  The first was shot by W2NAF and has a tour of the JW5E station.  The second was shot by KB9UWU during the WPX contest and shows pretty much what 15m was like for me: the band was obviously open but I didn’t have many callers.


Thanks to everybody who stopped by to say hi.  I worked lots of friends on the air from all over the world and received SWL reports from a few more.

LHS Episode #126: We Blinded Ourselves with Science

o-GRAVITY-WAVES-570In this episode, we get all science crazy. Lots of fun science topics to tickle the brain are in store. Along with that, we pursue the new LTS release of Ubuntu, the disappearance of Maylasia Airlines flight MH370, and some pretty cool tunes. There’s even some ham radio content thrown in, ’cause that’s how we roll.

73 de The LHS Guys

An Amazing Moment in Space Weather – Massive Solar Eruption June 2011

While many are talking about how Solar Cycle 24 is the weakest since the Maunder Minimum (the period starting in about 1645 and continuing to about 1715 when sunspots became exceedingly rare, as noted by solar observers of the time — see this Wiki entry), there are moments when activity on the Sun strongly increases, providing brief moments of excitement.

Here is a case in point, witnessed by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO; see SDO Mission) on June 7, 2011, when the Sun unleashed a magnitude M2 (a medium-sized) solar flare with a spectacular coronal mass ejection (CME). The large cloud of particles mushroomed up and fell back down looking as if it covered an area almost half the solar surface.

SDO observed the flare’s peak at 1:41 AM ET. SDO recorded these images in extreme ultraviolet light that show a very large eruption of cool gas. It is somewhat unique because at many places in the eruption there seems to be even cooler material — at temperatures less than 80,000 K.

This video uses the full-resolution 4096 x 4096 pixel images at a one minute time cadence to provide the highest quality, finest detail version possible.  The color is artificial, as the actual images are capturing Extreme Ultraviolet light.

It is interesting to compare the event in different wavelengths because they each see different temperatures of plasma.

Credit: NASA SDO / Goddard Space Flight Center

Video: – Massive Solar Eruption Close-up (2011-06-07 – NASA SDO)



1920 film: How the Telephone Talks (A Silent Film)

This is for you vintage science film buffs: here is a circa 1920 film: How the Telephone Talks (A Silent Film).

This is an educational film from 1920 that explained the “modern” telephone. The concepts are still relevant to today’s modern versions, including the cell phone, which is both radio and telephone.

From Wiki:

A telephone, or phone, is a telecommunications device that permits two or more users to conduct a conversation when they are not in the same vicinity of each other to be heard directly. A telephone converts sound, typically and most efficiently the human voice, into electronic signals suitable for transmission via cables or other transmission media over long distances, and replays such signals simultaneously in audible form to its user. The word telephone has been adapted into the vocabulary of many languages. It is derived from the Greek: τῆλε, tēle, far and φωνή, phōnē, voice, together meaning distant voice.

First patented in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell and further developed by many others, the telephone was the first device in history that enabled people to talk directly with each other across large distances. Telephones became rapidly indispensable to businesses, government, and households, and are today some of the most widely used small appliances.

The essential elements of a telephone are a microphone (transmitter) to speak into and an earphone (receiver) which reproduces the voice of the distant person. In addition, most telephones contain a ringer which produces a sound to announce an incoming telephone call, and a dial used to enter a telephone number when initiating a call to another telephone. Until approximately the 1970s most telephones used a rotary dial, which was superseded by the modern Touch-Tone push-button dial, first introduced by AT&T in 1963. The receiver and transmitter are usually built into a handset which is held up to the ear and mouth during conversation. The dial may be located either on the handset, or on a base unit to which the handset is connected by a cord containing wires. The transmitter converts the sound waves to electrical signals which are sent through the telephone network to the receiving phone. The receiving telephone converts the signals into audible sound in the receiver, or sometimes a loudspeaker. Telephones are a duplex communications medium, meaning they allow the people on both ends to talk simultaneously.

A landline telephone is connected by a pair of wires to the telephone network, while a mobile phone, such as a cellular phone, is portable and communicates with the telephone network by radio transmissions. A cordless telephone has a portable handset which communicates by radio transmission with the handset base station which is connected by wire to the telephone network.

The telephone network, consisting of a worldwide net of telephone lines, fiber optic cables, microwave transmission, cellular networks, communications satellites, and undersea telephone cables connected by switching centers, allows any telephone in the world to communicate with any other. Each telephone line has an identifying number called its telephone number. To initiate a telephone call the user enters the other telephone’s number into a numeric keypad on the phone.

Although originally designed for simple voice communications, most modern telephones have many additional capabilities. They may be able to record spoken messages, send and receive text messages, take and display photographs or video, play music, and surf the Internet. A current trend is phones that integrate all mobile communication and computing needs; these are called smartphones.

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