Posts Tagged ‘solar cycles’

630m … The New ‘Magic Band’?



The 'magic band' has always been associated with 50 MHz and its amazing propagation ... usually unpredictable and often without logical explanation. This past summer saw an explosion of digital FT8 activity on 6m which has, for me (and for others I suspect), eliminated almost all of the enjoyment I have found every year on this band.


With so much of the previous CW and phone activity now gone to FT8, the 'feel' of the band is just not what it once was. What I find puzzling is that so many have embraced this weak signal mode yet most of the two-way QSOs seem to be made between stations that can easily hear each other ... often at the very strong levels produced by 6m sporadic-E!

With FT8's inability to chat about antennas, rigs, propagation, locations or simply to exchange names, for me the magic has gone. Being able to hear signals build, fade up and down, or to experience the sudden arrival of bone-crushing signals from the east coast where none had existed moments earlier, is all part of what attracted me to 6m decades ago. I spent only a few hours on the band last summer, working a number of JA stations on FT8. No particular sense of satisfaction was garnered ... working a JA opening on CW is just way more exciting!

For many, the arrival of FT8 to the magic band has opened a whole new world and from seeing so many unfamiliar call signs on 6m this summer, it seems that FT8 has brought a lot of newcomers to the band. Unlike the JAs' worked every summer on CW, almost all of the FT8 JAs' sent their QSL immediately, with almost all excitingly indicating "1st VE" ... so this has to be a good thing! I suspect, that unless the level of conventional-mode activity returns to previous levels on 6m (highly unlikely), my interest in 50MHz will slowly wane or vanish altogether ... but thankfully, there's still magic to be found elsewhere on the ham bands!

As solar Cycle 24 draws down into its final months, the deep lows that were experienced at the end of Cycle 23 are starting to develop once again. For the past few weeks, propagation below the broadcast band has been the best it has been since the previous solar quieting.

Being just below the bottom edge of the broadcast band, 630m (472-479 kHz) has seen some of the benefits of the recent round of stagnant geomagnetic activity.

While some transcontinental QSOs are regularly being made on CW, most contacts are being completed using the weak signal JT9 QSO mode. Contacts can often be completed just as the sun begins to set and staying up into the wee hours to catch east coast DX is not a requirement. Over the past few weeks my 'states worked' total has climbed to 30 and with a couple of holdouts, the QSLs have been steadily arriving.

My 630m states worked, shown in red. Map courtesy: https://mapchart.net/

Last month's arrivals, in spite of the Canada Post delivery disruptions, are shown below.




The recent great propagation on 630m is well-demonstrated by last Saturday night's activity. For the previous two evenings, my JT9 CQ's (as well as QSOs) were being decoded for hours at a time by Rolf, LA2XPA in Norway. He was also hearing Larry, W7IUV, located a few hundred miles to my southwest, on the other side of the Cascade mountains in Washington state. Both of our signals would fade and trade places in Norway but often reaching audible CW levels! The problem was that neither myself or Larry could see any of Rolf's replies to us ... disappointing to us and frustrating for Rolf.

After an hour of trying, I asked Rolf (via the ON4KST LF chat page) what he was using for a receive antenna. It turned out that his secret weapon was a 1000' beverage pointed this way ... no wonder he was hearing so well. Larry, who was using a shorter, easterly pointing BOG (Beverage On Ground) for 630m receive, commented that he also had a 1000' beverage pointed toward Europe but it was optimized for 160m and doubted that it would work on 630. Just to make sure, he plugged it into a second receiver and soon indicated that he 'might' have seen a weak JT9 trace on the waterfall, close to Rolf's frequency.

One minute later Larry's comment was just "wow!" and the following minute he explained what had occurred. It seems that the 'possible weak trace' had suddenly skyrocketed to a -16db signal ... right at the edge of audibility! Larry and Rolf quickly exchanged signal reports and "RRs" as the first Europe-West Coast 630m QSO went into the history books ... 'wow' indeed!

Rolf reported that at his end, Larry's already good signal suddenly shot up to -5db, an easily copied CW level, before fading away for the night. Larry was pretty shocked at how quickly this strong short enhancement had occurred and we all hoped that the oft observed 'spotlight' propagation seen on 630 would move further west to VE7 ... but for now, it was not to be.

Earlier in the evening I had commented to Larry about some previous quirky 630m propagation and had suggested to him that it was probably just due to "the magic of radio" ... to which he politely dismissed with "sorry no magic, just hard work and dumb luck". Looks like he was right on both accounts, but after Saturday's excitement I think he may now believe in a little magic as well!

Novice Rig Round-Up Report





Last week's Novice Rig Round-Up delivered far more enjoyment than I ever imagined!




Operating from the left coast and choosing to limit my output power to 5 watts, I really didn't expect to work more than a half dozen stations or so. The week-long event included two weekends, providing plenty of opportunity for participants to spark-up their novice-class rigs or their favorite pre-80's 'boatanchors' ... and they did!

I had 68 contacts with other 'NRR' stations, working numerous Heathkits, Drakes, Johnsons and homebrewed favorites ... even a Collins KWS-1! Staying true to the 'novice' class spirit, most were using hand keys and a surprising number were even using crystal control.

I decided to enter the fray with my homebrew "Longfeller", shown above, run at 5W to take advantage of the low power multiplier as well as using crystal control.

After struggling to work two stations, I soon decided that if I was going to work much at all, I would need to switch to 'search and pounce' mode and use the VFO. The once ubiquitous Heathkit VF-1, with all of its charming quirks, was pressed into service. Although I've always loved its green hypnotic dial, a week with the VF-1 reminded me of all the things I also hated about it as a teenaged ham back in the mid 60s'. But as it did back then, it served me well and allowed me to park the Longfeller wherever I wanted.

My NRR Setup
So much of the NRR reminded me of my early exciting radio days, high up in my attic bedroom shack. It reminded me of how challenging each contact was back then and of the pride of achievement when a contact was completed using pretty basic gear. It reminded me also, of just how far our equipment has evolved since then and gave me a renewed appreciation for the modern gear I unfortunately often take for granted.

For the low bands (80/40m), the Longfeller was fed into full-sized vertical wire groundplanes made from homebrew ladder line and both fed with the same coaxial feedline.


A counterpoise of eight wire radials were laid on the lawn temporarily with the feedpoint sitting about 20' from the ocean. Being right at the ocean allows me to take advantage of an approximate 6db of "sea gain", effectively turning my 5 watts into 20 watts of radiated power. At times, my signal needed all the help it could get.


It was also exciting to catch the sometimes fleeting transcontinental openings on 15m, as the MUF often struggled to reach 21 MHz each morning. This very much reminded me of past solar cycle peak winters and the morning excitement of watching the MUF slowly climb towards 50MHz, or in some cases, shoot up like a rocket. As Cycle 24 reaches the bottom, the effects of low solar flux values on our higher bands becomes increasingly more evident. I suspect that there will be no 15m transcontinental work in next winter's NRR and who knows how long that might be the case. High MUFs were fun while they lasted ... another thing often taken for granted.

Without question, one of the most interesting parts of the nine day event was following the propagation variances from night to night on 40 and 80m. With a couple of exceptions, low-band propagation was generally pretty good, with one mid-week night being just great. Signals from the east coast to the southern states were strong and with almost no QSB. The Longfeller pushed its 80m signal to Florida, Maryland, New York, Alabama, Louisiana, Ohio and Kentucky. I remember many nights like this when operating 80m back in the early to mid 60's, during the lull between monster Cycle 19 and wimpy Cycle 20. Hopefully we will see more of these really nice transcontinental nights on 80 over the next several years.

For me however, the highlight of the event occurred last Saturday afternoon, while on 40m, fully ninety minutes before our local sunset. I had called WW6D after his 589 CQ only to hear him respond to another NRR local, Mark, CF7MM. He gave Mark's 50 watt DX-60 a '589' and when he finished I called him again ... with not even a whisper of response or even a QRZ. After I called him a third time, he returned to his CQ, leaving no doubt that he wasn't hearing a trace of my signal. Now full-sized 1/4 wave groundplanes mounted beside the ocean are not noted for producing high-angled radiation, which this path would certainly have benefited from, but I would have expected something!

I immediately moved down the band a few kilohertz and sent a short hand-keyed CQ and received an immediate response from WS1K in Plymouth, MA! Jon's signal was a solid and unwavering 559 and he was running only 5 watts as well ... and, he was crystal-controlled! The groundplane had swiftly redeemed itself as this exciting contact went into the log on 40m ... and all in broad daylight! Pictured below is Jon's transcon ether-busting machine ... proof that form does indeed follow function!

WS1K's 40m Transcon 6V6 Ether-Buster
For me, there is only one other operating event that is as enjoyable as I found the NRR to be ... the annual 1929 BK Party, when signals are often just as strong as in the NRR, but a couple of decades raunchier-sounding. Both are great fun and if you loved the NRR you will love the '29 BK.

I'm really looking forward to next year's NRR but will definitely be running more power. I was impressed with the several Drake 2NT's that I heard and luckily enough, have one such rig in my boatanchor basement. It will be a good project to recap and put back on the air, along with the VF-1, which will also be given the once over to encourage it to behave properly when driving the classy Drake.


Please give the NRR some serious thought for next year ... it's not too early to start planning, refurbishing or to seek out and cherish that aging old beauty, presently hiding in someones attic gathering dust. See you in the NRR!

Novice Rig Round-Up Report





Last week's Novice Rig Round-Up delivered far more enjoyment than I ever imagined!




Operating from the left coast and choosing to limit my output power to 5 watts, I really didn't expect to work more than a half dozen stations or so. The week-long event included two weekends, providing plenty of opportunity for participants to spark-up their novice-class rigs or their favorite pre-80's 'boatanchors' ... and they did!

I had 68 contacts with other 'NRR' stations, working numerous Heathkits, Drakes, Johnsons and homebrewed favorites ... even a Collins KWS-1! Staying true to the 'novice' class spirit, most were using hand keys and a surprising number were even using crystal control.

I decided to enter the fray with my homebrew "Longfeller", shown above, run at 5W to take advantage of the low power multiplier as well as using crystal control.

After struggling to work two stations, I soon decided that if I was going to work much at all, I would need to switch to 'search and pounce' mode and use the VFO. The once ubiquitous Heathkit VF-1, with all of its charming quirks, was pressed into service. Although I've always loved its green hypnotic dial, a week with the VF-1 reminded me of all the things I also hated about it as a teenaged ham back in the mid 60s'. But as it did back then, it served me well and allowed me to park the Longfeller wherever I wanted.

My NRR Setup
So much of the NRR reminded me of my early exciting radio days, high up in my attic bedroom shack. It reminded me of how challenging each contact was back then and of the pride of achievement when a contact was completed using pretty basic gear. It reminded me also, of just how far our equipment has evolved since then and gave me a renewed appreciation for the modern gear I unfortunately often take for granted.

For the low bands (80/40m), the Longfeller was fed into full-sized vertical wire groundplanes made from homebrew ladder line and both fed with the same coaxial feedline.


A counterpoise of eight wire radials were laid on the lawn temporarily with the feedpoint sitting about 20' from the ocean. Being right at the ocean allows me to take advantage of an approximate 6db of "sea gain", effectively turning my 5 watts into 20 watts of radiated power. At times, my signal needed all the help it could get.


It was also exciting to catch the sometimes fleeting transcontinental openings on 15m, as the MUF often struggled to reach 21 MHz each morning. This very much reminded me of past solar cycle peak winters and the morning excitement of watching the MUF slowly climb towards 50MHz, or in some cases, shoot up like a rocket. As Cycle 24 reaches the bottom, the effects of low solar flux values on our higher bands becomes increasingly more evident. I suspect that there will be no 15m transcontinental work in next winter's NRR and who knows how long that might be the case. High MUFs were fun while they lasted ... another thing often taken for granted.

Without question, one of the most interesting parts of the nine day event was following the propagation variances from night to night on 40 and 80m. With a couple of exceptions, low-band propagation was generally pretty good, with one mid-week night being just great. Signals from the east coast to the southern states were strong and with almost no QSB. The Longfeller pushed its 80m signal to Florida, Maryland, New York, Alabama, Louisiana, Ohio and Kentucky. I remember many nights like this when operating 80m back in the early to mid 60's, during the lull between monster Cycle 19 and wimpy Cycle 20. Hopefully we will see more of these really nice transcontinental nights on 80 over the next several years.

For me however, the highlight of the event occurred last Saturday afternoon, while on 40m, fully ninety minutes before our local sunset. I had called WW6D after his 589 CQ only to hear him respond to another NRR local, Mark, CF7MM. He gave Mark's 50 watt DX-60 a '589' and when he finished I called him again ... with not even a whisper of response or even a QRZ. After I called him a third time, he returned to his CQ, leaving no doubt that he wasn't hearing a trace of my signal. Now full-sized 1/4 wave groundplanes mounted beside the ocean are not noted for producing high-angled radiation, which this path would certainly have benefited from, but I would have expected something!

I immediately moved down the band a few kilohertz and sent a short hand-keyed CQ and received an immediate response from WS1K in Plymouth, MA! Jon's signal was a solid and unwavering 559 and he was running only 5 watts as well ... and, he was crystal-controlled! The groundplane had swiftly redeemed itself as this exciting contact went into the log on 40m ... and all in broad daylight! Pictured below is Jon's transcon ether-busting machine ... proof that form does indeed follow function!

WS1K's 40m Transcon 6V6 Ether-Buster
For me, there is only one other operating event that is as enjoyable as I found the NRR to be ... the annual 1929 BK Party, when signals are often just as strong as in the NRR, but a couple of decades raunchier-sounding. Both are great fun and if you loved the NRR you will love the '29 BK.

I'm really looking forward to next year's NRR but will definitely be running more power. I was impressed with the several Drake 2NT's that I heard and luckily enough, have one such rig in my boatanchor basement. It will be a good project to recap and put back on the air, along with the VF-1, which will also be given the once over to encourage it to behave properly when driving the classy Drake.


Please give the NRR some serious thought for next year ... it's not too early to start planning, refurbishing or to seek out and cherish that aging old beauty, presently hiding in someones attic gathering dust. See you in the NRR!

Solar Cycle Trends and The Gleissberg Cycle

courtesy: http://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/data/

This month's Sky & Telescope magazine mentions an interesting study presented in a press release from the International Astronomical Union's 29th General Assembly held this past summer.



Frederic Clette (Royal Observatory of Belgium) and colleagues analyzed the past 400 years of sunspot records and found that the (previously believed) upward trend in solar activity is really a calibration error. They found instead, that solar activity has been relatively stable since the 1700s.

The IAU's summer press release goes on to say ...

" The Sunspot Number, the longest scientific experiment still ongoing, is a crucial tool used to study the solar dynamo, space weather and climate change. It has now been recalibrated and shows a consistent history of solar activity over the past few centuries. The new record has no significant long-term upward trend in solar activity since 1700, as was previously indicated. This suggests that rising global temperatures since the industrial revolution cannot be attributed to increased solar activity.

The results ... make it difficult to explain the observed changes in the climate that started in the 18th century and extended through the industrial revolution to the 20th century as being significantly influenced by natural solar trends.

The apparent upward trend of solar activity between the 18th century and the late 20th century has now been identified as a major calibration error in the Group Sunspot Number. Now that this error has been corrected, solar activity appears to have remained relatively stable since the 1700s

The newly corrected sunspot numbers now provide a homogeneous record of solar activity dating back some 400 years. Existing climate evolution models will need to be reevaluated given this entirely new picture of the long-term evolution of solar activity. This work will stimulate new studies both in solar physics (solar cycle modelling and predictions) and climatology, and can be used to unlock tens of millennia of solar records encoded in cosmogenic nuclides found in ice cores and tree rings. This could reveal more clearly the role the Sun plays in climate change over much longer timescales. "



courtesy: World Data Center - SILSO
The graph above shows the Group Sunspot Numbers (GSN) measured over the past 400 years following the new calibration. The Maunder Minimum, between 1645 and 1715, when sunspots were rare and winters harsh, is clearly evident.

I found this graph particularly interesting with regards to long-term affects on propagation as it illustrates the upcoming predicted Gleissberg Cycle, the 'cycle within the Cycle' ... a period of several weak 11-year cycles in a row and lasting from 80-90 years ... great news for low-frequency fans but not so good for 6m diehards

Maybe we'll get one more humdinger before it arrives!


A More Optimistic Cycle 25

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

With all of the doom and gloom forecasts for the upcoming solar cycles, I was reminded of the various prognostications that were made for our present Cycle 24. I recall one in particular, made in the winter of 2006 ...

Solar cycle 24, due to peak in 2010 or 2011 "looks like its going to be one of the most intense cycles since record-keeping began almost 400 years ago," says solar physicist David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center. He and colleague Robert Wilson presented this conclusion last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

So much for that prediction!

It seems that at least one group, led by Leif Svalgaard, got it right, as W4ZV recently reminded us on the Topband reflector ...

I had to do a memory refresh but finally recalled that Leif Svalgaard, et.al.
accurately predicted Cycle 24 in October 2004. He did not use conveyor
belt theory but polar field measurements:

"Using direct polar field measurements, now available for four solar
cycles, we predict that the approaching solar cycle 24 ( 2011 maximum) will
have a peak smoothed monthly sunspot number of 75 ± 8, making it
potentially the smallest cycle in the last 100 years."

http://www.leif.org/research/Cycle%2024%20Smallest%20100%20years.pdf


The actual smoothed sunspot peak for Cycle 24 was around 82 in early 2014
(blue line on the graph below). He missed the peak date because it
occurred during the cycle's second peak.

http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/solar-cycle-progression

73, Bill W4ZV


But Svalgaard wasn't the only one with an accurate forecast. Searching for a less-gloomy outlook for upcoming Cycle 25, I happened upon a paper by Hamid Helal and A.A. Galal of the National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics, in Cairo. In "An early prediction of the maximum amplitude of the solar cycle 25", the authors cite a methodology that was bang-on for the last three cycles and gives a very optimistic outlook for Cycle 25.

Table 2 gives our prediction for cycle 25 in comparison with the published predictions of other authors in chronologic alphabetic order. It is obvious that our results agree with some contributions and disagree with others. In fact the differences of the predicted strengths by different authors may be attributed to the variety of the used techniques and methodology. Although some authors think that cycle 25 could be one of the weakest in centuries, in contrast, we think that the next cycle will be relatively stronger than cycle 24 and it will have nearly the same strength of cycle 23, i.e. the sunspot maximum may rebound in the near future.

courtesy: http://www.sciencedirect.com


If Cycle 25 is comparable to Cycle 23 it will be happy days again ... it was a very robust cycle and provided several winters of high F2 MUFs, leading to day after day of amazing 50MHz propagation!

I'm somewhat vexed about which scenario I'd prefer, being both an LF'er (quiet, weak cycle) and a diehard 6m guy (chaotic, strong cycle). In any event, Cycle 25 will likely be the last one of any interest to me. I was born at the peak of Cycle 18 ... you do the math!

Obviously it will be a few years yet before we see who is right, but I'm kind of pulling for Helal and Galal's big numbers for one last 6m hoorah!

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.

Sunspot Numbering System Revised


Although sunspot data has been recorded in one form or another for over 400 years, there have been few changes in the counting system since the introduction of the 'Wolf Number' in 1849. Recording of the sunspot 'Group Number' came into existence in 1998. It seems there were some strong differences in the two parallel series of systems and in 2011 a group of 40 experts undertook a full examination and revision of both systems in order to identify and fix the defects.


The new system, which became effective on July 1st, has brought both systems into alignment, with the most notable correction being in the lowering, by about 18%, of all numbers after 1947. The new Group Number has been corrected for a large underestimate of all values before the 20th century and has resulted in a fully reconstructed series of Group Numbers.

courtesy: http://www.sidc.be/
Viewed graphically, through my non-expert eyes, most of the earlier cycles up until 1947 appear to show slightly stronger peaks than before while those after 1947, including monster Cycle 19, show smaller peaks.

The graphic of Group Numbers shows significant increases for cycles up until the 1900's.

courtesy: http://www.sidc.be/



The new system brings the correlation of Group Numbers and Sunspot Numbers into harmony, unlike before.



courtesy: http://www.sidc.be/


Although these changes became effective on July 1st, the work is far from complete. According to the folks at SILSO (Sunspot Index and Long-term Solar Observations):

Still, as can be seen, significant deviations remain, mainly before 1825, when the observations become scarce and in periods of activity minima (low counts). So, more work definitely remains to be done for many years to come, but given the major improvements harvested at this stage, the WDC - SILSO is now going to proceed with the public release of this new version.
 


The preparation of this major operation is now almost completed. It required a huge organizational and programming work from the small SILSO team. Indeed, the release of the new past Sunspot series is just a starting point for the WDC-SILSO. Indeed, it requires a deep reworking of the operational software that will process the data from our worldwide network on July 1st and in the future. Indeed, various data products must be made seamlessly compatible with the new base total Sunspot Number series: the hemispheric Sunspot Numbers, the daily Estimated Sunspot Number, the 12-month solar-cycle forecasts, all data plots and the derivation of personal k coefficients for all stations of the network.


After a rather uneventful life over the past 166 years, the Sunspot Number will thus be reborn in a new incarnation on Wednesday July 1st. We hope that the science community will welcome this revived data set and will appreciate the considerable community effort accomplished over the past four years to produce a better reference for long-term solar and Sun-Earth studies.

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