HAMNET Report 16th January 2022

Nicole Taylor, ZS1NCT, the daughter of our HAMNET Regional Director, Michael, ZS1MJT, has a Masters in Mechatronic Engineering, and is writing a blog from her position now, on board SA Agulhas ll, doing research into stresses the ship experiences as it plows through the ice down at Antarctica. She has written a description this week of the tricks the ship uses to break free, or break a channel through the ice. She says:

”It helps to know that the SA Agulhas II is an ice-going vessel with a strengthened hull that makes her really great at taking on ice head-on. She does this by pushing ice cakes aside with her bow or, when the ice cakes are very big (so they have formed an ice floe or sheet), sliding on top of the ice as she goes forward and breaking the ice below her belly with her weight. She ends up cracking through the ice below her and then nudging the broken ice aside as she trudges on forward.

“At times, however, the snow gets really thick, which weakens her ice-sliding, -nudging and -cracking superpower. The snow acts like glue and holds her tight, which requires extra effort from the crew to get free from its grip. First up is Plan A.

“Plan A: Try the propulsion system. I.e. Try to reverse out and push forward using the propellers to see if the snow-grip can be overcome by the engines. If this does not work, try Plan B too.

“Plan B: Pump water between port (left of ship if you are on the ship and looking towards her front) and starboard (right of the ship) side ballast tanks, which are massive water tanks. This helps shift the ship’s weight between left and right, slowly trying to loosen the snow-grip. If this does not work, the big guns start coming out in Plan C.

“Plan C: Rotate the front crane arm, rated at 35 tons – so it’s a big one – between port and starboard side. This is similar to Plan B, with more weight being shifted around. This is usually done in conjunction with Plan A and B, if they alone do not work, to shift more weight around while trying to move out of the ice.

“And if this does not work, a jacked up Plan C becomes Plan D: Rotate the front crane arm between port and starboard side while holding a 20 ton container.  This is also usually done in conjunction with Plan A and B.

“Then, at play behind the scenes is always Plan E: Get help from the ever-changing environmental conditions that help loosen the ice, or melt the snow, etc. This can mean waiting for warmer weather (anything in the positive degrees C range would be great) to help melt snow and ice, or changes in tides and strong winds that blow the sea ice away or loosen it. Sometimes a good night’s rest on board while the ship rests in the ice offers just the right amount of time for Plan E to do its thing to let Plan A work first thing in the morning.

“The ice in Antarctica this summer season sure offered the SA Agulhas II a fantastic platform to showcase her ice-breaking ability. Although it sometimes appears as though her favourite game to play is “stuck in the ice”, the SA Agulhas II, piloted and manoeuvred by her experienced crew, always has a good few plans up her sleeve and does a great deal to break through the ice we encounter – what an experience to have front row seats to all this!”

You can follow Nicole’s blog by typing this and only this into your search engine:

https://expeditionantarctica.wordpress.com/author/zs1nct/

Thanks very much for this and permission to publish, Nicole! What a very clear description from a competent young lady, who, by the way, is also a member of HAMNET.

Our Western Cape HAMNET bulletin relay on a Wednesday night at 19h30 CAT has been augmented by a link, off the Echolink relay, on to DMR Brandmeister Talk Group 6558, done by James ZS1RBT, using his personal DMR ID. So if you have that DMR capability, join us on Wednesday evenings for some news and views. The relay is one-way, because it is taken off Echolink, and not controlled by the bulletin reader.

In Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia, the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia (KKMM) is planning to use satellite technology to improve communication systems in the face of disasters, said its Deputy Minister Datuk Zahidi Zainul Abidin.

He said this improvement was to prevent telecommunication network disruptions during disasters, such as the situation experienced during the massive floods that hit the country last month.

He said the use of satellite technology, including 5G network satellites, could help to manage natural disaster situations such as sending early warnings to the public.

He said during flooding, communications were disrupted as calls could not be made due to power failures affecting telecommunication towers.

“The solution we need, is (to use) satellites…the government will discuss with countries that have (satellite technology) including 5G satellites. This is KKMM’s plan“, he said, adding the cost of using satellite technology was lower and the time to implement it was also shorter.

Thank you to TheSunDaily for this insert.

In ARRL News, this week, we learn that the TEVEL mission, which consists of eight satellites carrying amateur radio FM transponders, was set to launch on January 13 at 1525 UTC on the SpaceX Falcon 9 Transporter-3 mission, which also carries AMSAT-Spain’s (AMSAT-EA) EASAT-2 and HADES satellites. The TEVEL satellites were developed by the Herzliya Science Centre in Israel.

All eight satellites will use the same frequencies, as long as their footprints overlap, and only one FM transponder will be activated at a time. Beacon transmissions will be on 436.400 MHz (9,600 bps BPSK). The uplink frequency of the FM transponders is 145.970 MHz, and the downlink frequency is 436.400 MHz. The satellites were built by eight schools in different parts of Israel.

In fact, this SpaceX rocket was part of the rideshare programme, and launched a total of 105 satellites mostly in the Nano class, for a wide variety of agencies!

This reminds me rather of the vehicles of a very well-known South African online shopping experience, who’s drivers set off each morning from their despatch, with at least 100 small packages for delivery in their surrounds. Like SpaceX, their responsibility ends once the package (read satellite) is delivered to its destination.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 9th January 2022

During a disaster, many people turn to social media seeking information. But communicating during disasters is challenging, especially using an interactive environment like social media where misinformation can spread easily.

Now, University of Georgia researchers have developed a social media tool better to help local emergency managers disperse information to community members during a disaster.

Led by recent graduate Dionne Mitcham, a team from the Institute for Disaster Management at UGA’s College of Public Health has developed a communication framework that local emergency managers could adopt to support crisis communications.

The proposed framework is a spoke-and-wheel design that utilizes community-based public information officers (PIO), emergency management professionals, and/or trained volunteers to communicate information from the operations team and command and control team to the public, traditional media and other stakeholders.

The framework aims to aid local emergency management agencies that lack access to resources state and federal emergency management organizations typically have, such as risk communicators, social media strategists and full-time PIOs.

“There is a lack of both communication frameworks and guidance on the use of social media as a crisis communication tool that was tailored specifically for use on the local level,” said Mitcham. “The framework uniquely leverages local emergency management agencies’ close relationships with stakeholders to help amplify the distribution of uniform disaster-related messaging via social media.”

Incorporating social media into a local emergency management department’s communication plan allows emergency managers and PIOs directly to engage in quick information sharing with the public. This improves the efficiency of information dispersal and prevents potential misrepresentation of information due to the information being posted directly from the source, said the authors.

Local emergency management departments have a unique opportunity to establish and nurture relationships within a community before disaster strikes. These relationships help to reach the whole community when a disaster happens.

“By collaborating with diverse community organizations, the hub framework assists local governments in understanding and meeting the actual needs of the whole community in real time. Formalizing these partnerships prior to a disaster ensures that all members of the community will receive urgent information,” said co-author Morgan Taylor, a doctoral student in the department of epidemiology and biostatistics and research assistant with the Institute for Disaster Management.

There are pitfalls when it comes to using social media. Platforms are not designed to support emergency response and crisis communication: Messages containing critical information can get lost in the influx of messages. False information can spread quickly. Sometimes different community stakeholders can have conflicting messages.

“My co-authors and I hope local emergency managers and their teams use this article as a starting point for considering how to get stakeholders involved in the distribution of crisis communications. In addition, we want to show that uniform distribution of communication messages via social media can be utilized at any level of emergency management—from local to federal,” said Mitcham.

Similarly, the Star Newspaper in Malaysia reported on Thursday that the government will set up a task force to improve the existing communication system and create a faster and effective early warning system for disasters for the benefit of the people.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa said the matter would be discussed in detail by the Communications Ministry secretary-general and the relevant agencies, including the Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia) and the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID).

“The Cabinet is of the opinion that the communication system and information delivery to the people need to be improved.

“That is why we strive to have a better system including by adopting the concept of SMS blasting so that we can send early warnings quickly and accurately to the people in disaster-affected areas,” he told a press conference after delivering the 2022 New Year’s message for the Communications Ministry at Angkasapuri here on Thursday the 6th of January.

In the message, Annuar also acknowledged that there were some weaknesses in the existing methods of information delivery during disasters.

Your writer likes the term “SMS blasting”, and wonders whether we in South Africa could ever set up a system to allow wide-spread emergency notifications. In Malaysia, of course, the tsunami of 2004 must have got the government thinking long and hard about how to warn the masses of impending disaster.

An organised system in South Africa for example, to warn all the people living on the West Coast of the Cape to avoid the sea because of Red Tide, or the people living near Kruger Park of a rogue lion on the loose, or the people living in Durban North of a swollen Umzinduzi upstream about to cause the Umgeni to burst its banks, would clearly be of benefit. I wonder if our telecommunications agencies would be able to put a plan like this into action. No harm in dreaming is there!

Our friends at Southgate Amateur Radio News tell us that the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a grant of nearly $50,000 to Nathaniel Frissell, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics and electrical engineering at The University of Scranton.

The grant will support “The Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation (HamSCI) 2022 Workshop,” which will take place on March 18 and 19 at The U.S. Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama. The conference, which will take place in-person, also has a virtual format option.

The Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation (HamSCI) is a collective of professional researchers and licensed amateur radio operators (a.k.a. hams) with the objective to foster collaborations between the amateur and professional communities for the purposes of advancing scientific research and understanding, encouraging the development of new technologies to support this research, and of providing educational opportunities for the amateur radio community and the general public.

The workshop will serve as a team meeting for the HamSCI Personal Space Weather Station project, which is a $1.3 million NSF funded project previously awarded to Dr. Frissell. The project seeks to harness the power of a network of licensed amateur radio operators better to understand and measure the effects of weather in the upper levels of Earth’s atmosphere.

The theme for the two-day HamSCI workshop is “The Weather Connection.” The fifth annual workshop will feature prominent leaders in space weather, atmospheric weather and the connection between them. And this workshop is open to everyone, and is free.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

 

HAMNET Report 2nd January 2022

Welcome to the world of HAMNET in this new year. These new dates will sure take a bit of getting used to! Those of you wondering why I don’t write much about local emergency communications should note that very little happens in South Africa for us to communicate about.

We certainly don’t have the devastating weather that so many other areas of the world experience, we don’t have many earthquakes around here, and even the large brushfires so typical of California and Australia can’t be matched by anything in South Africa.

We are singularly good at killing ourselves off on our roads, but we do that in dribs and drabs, and Ham Radio Emcomms is very seldom needed to manage those. What we do have a fair amount of, usually, are sporting events like marathons, bicycle tours, long distance swims, and triathlons. These sporting events have been struggling under the impact of the Coronavirus, so a good 50% of them have been cancelled in the last 2 years. HAMNET is usually very good at providing logistical support for these events, but has been starved of practice since February 2020. Let’s hope 2022 and the Omicron version of the plague returns us to half a semblance of normality, such that we can start playing radio again in the way we enjoy most.

In the meantime, I continue to search the news outlets for items of interest to electronic, scientific, biological and cosmological enthusiasts, to keep all our grey matter just ticking over slowly. Please join me in what I hope remains an interesting wander through the natural sciences this year.

Those of you with dyslexia will be struggling to remember whether it was JWST or WSJT that got launched on Christmas Day! It’s signals will become very weak, true, through no effort of Joe Taylor, but the ESA and NASA will have no difficulty picking up the science that the James Webb Space Telescope sends, once it gets to le Grange point 2, from a mere 1.5 million kilometers away, using the Deep Space Network of tracking dishes scattered around the globe.

So far, all is going to plan, and by today (Sunday) the JWST may just have reached the half way point to its destination. In fact, it successfully unfurled its insulation shields yesterday. Its forward momentum will clearly slow down, because it’s going to take the rest of a month to get there, having taken a week to get halfway! I don’t think many of the 433 discrete actions that have to take place to unfurl the telescope and get it started up have taken place yet, so this is like a never-ending hurdle race which the autonomous telescope more or less has to negotiate on its own before it becomes a usable instrument. I think there will be a lot more grey hairs amongst the controllers before the commissioning is over. Here’s hoping all goes according to plan..

Southgate Amateur Radio News notes that, as the pandemic  speeds up once again and people are advised to limit their in-person social interactions, a small group of people are reaching out across the airwaves from Barrie to connect with others in a much different way.

The Barrie Amateur Radio Club has been one of the few organisations that has thrived during the now two-year COVID crisis.

Formed in the 1960s, its current band of roughly 60 like-minded members is armed with dependable radio technology that has been in use for over a hundred years. And they use the equipment not just for its social aspects, but also to fulfil a need if called upon in there city when disaster strikes.

Part of the club’s mission statement is to “maintain radio systems suitable for providing communications for the benefit of the community and, when requested, to assist civil authorities.”

Prior to the pandemic, the club held monthly meetings with police and fire services to discuss training scenarios and what the club’s role could be in helping during an emergency.

Ed Murray, the club’s public information officer, says that his favourite part of being a member is “helping the community, and also the camaraderie with the 60 different members that have a wide range of talents and experiences to share.”

“During the early days of the pandemic, during isolation in 2020, I spent a lot of time down here in my radio shack, talking. We had a wellness check where people would get on their radios at 1:30 every afternoon and we would all take our turns to say what is going on and how we were doing,” Murray says.

“Clubs would reach out to other clubs as well. We’ve been able to take the situation and turn it around and put it into a positive light,” he adds.

Thanks to SARN for this adaptation of their report.

Mark, ZS6MDX has reminded me of further developments in the efforts of German Hams to develop radio bridges and high-performance Wi-Fi networks over radio to allow communications amongst disaster agencies in Germany.

Market Research Telecast says that the German radio amateurs who have joined forces in the non-profit German Amateur Radio Club (DARC) have developed a new emergency radio concept. During the flood disaster in the Ahr valley, they hardly got a chance, because the rescue workers had a powerful communication infrastructure with new digital radios for authorities and the radio bridges that amateurs could build could hardly be integrated.

According to its own information, the Emergency and Disaster Radio Department at DARC has been analysing for a long time how the requirements for emergency radio have changed as a result of technical change. In the future, German radio amateurs in disaster areas will no longer just record and forward messages as before, but rather set up high-performance Wi-Fi networks that allow those affected to access the Internet and send messages and retrieve information themselves via smartphone or notebook.

The non-profit association is currently procuring a first prototype for such a system, that can be transported in a vehicle trailer and works independently of the power grid. If the concept proves its worth, such emergency systems will in future be available throughout Germany, so that the voluntary helpers of the association can bring them to the site quickly if necessary. The systems not only include the WLAN components, but also, for example, a network-independent power supply and charging stations for the population to charge mobile devices. Starting in April, the association wants to demonstrate in practice how powerful such an emergency radio solution can be with the prototype.

Thanks to Market Research Telecast for these notes.

I’d like to end by strongly encouraging all of you who read this or listen to it, to do your best to be of service to your community in 2022, assisting where help is needed, and keeping amateur radio’s flag flying high.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 26th December 2021

In a report following up on Cyclone Rai-21, Digitaljournal.com reports that the death toll from the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year surged to 375 on Monday, as desperate survivors pleaded for urgent supplies of drinking water and food.

The Philippine Red Cross reported “complete carnage” in coastal areas after Super Typhoon Rai left homes, hospitals and schools “ripped to shreds”.

The storm tore off roofs, uprooted trees, toppled concrete power poles, smashed wooden houses to pieces, wiped out crops and flooded villages — sparking comparisons to the damage caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

“Our situation is so desperate,” said Ferry Asuncion, a street vendor in the hard-hit seaside city of Surigao, which was devastated by the storm.

Residents urgently needed “drinking water and food”, he said.

As mentioned, 375 people were killed and 56 are missing in the latest disaster to hit the archipelago, with 500 more injured, the national police said.

More than 380,000 people fled their homes and beachfront resorts as Rai slammed into the country on Thursday.

One of the hardest-hit islands was Bohol — known for its beaches, “Chocolate Hills” and tiny tarsier primates — where at least 94 people have died, provincial Governor Arthur Yap said on Facebook.

In Bohol’s coastal town of Ubay, a state of calamity has been declared, with many wooden houses flattened and fishing boats destroyed.

Rai hit the Philippines late in the typhoon season. Most cyclones develop between July and October.

Scientists have long warned that typhoons are becoming more powerful and strengthening more rapidly as the world becomes warmer because of human-driven climate change.

The Philippines — ranked among the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change — is hit by an average of 20 storms every year, which typically wipe out harvests, homes and infrastructure in already impoverished areas.

The Philippines has an established disaster management system that provides early warnings of approaching storms and moves vulnerable communities into evacuation centres.

But the storm has dealt a savage blow to the tourism sector, which was already struggling after Covid-19 restrictions decimated visitor numbers.

“SOS” has been painted on a road in the tourist town of General Luna on Siargao Island, where surfers and holidaymakers had flocked ahead of Christmas, as people struggled to find water and food.

“There’s no water anymore, there’s a water shortage, on day one there was already looting in our neighbourhood,” Siargao resort owner Marja O’Donnell told CNN Philippines.

There has also been widespread destruction on Dinagat and Mindanao islands, which along with Siargao bore the brunt of the storm when it hit, packing wind speeds of 195 kilometres (120 miles) per hour.

With electricity knocked out in many areas, there is no signal or internet, hampering efforts to assess the storm’s damage.

Thousands of military, police, coast guard and fire personnel were deployed along with food, water and medical supplies, while heavy machinery — including backhoes and front-end loaders — were sent to clear roads.

Southgate Amateur Radio News notes that the WIA, notified by the German regulator through their regulatory committee, alerts them to be aware of radio interference. One unfortunate side effect of the Christmas celebration is the dumping on the market of cheap devices emitting radio interference.

At the moment, USB battery chargers and action cameras are particularly conspicuous with the German Federal Network Agency. At first glance, many electrical products are very cheap bargains. In reality, however, they are inferior products that cause radio interference.

In recent weeks, the Federal Network Agency has increasingly found LED products of all kinds, but especially Christmas lighting, that do not meet the legal requirements. The spectrum ranges from simple LED lamps to LED recessed and ceiling lights to outdoor lighting (LED floodlights). Colour-changing and other Christmas lighting for indoors and outdoors are also popular items to buy in the run-up to Christmas. The prices of these products are usually significantly lower than those of well-known brand products, especially in online retail. This can be an indication of inferiority and undercutting of legal requirements.

So don’t forget to go round your house, switching off new random electronics in the house, if the noise floor on your HF radio is now so high that you can’t hear for noise!

Chris Burger ZS6EZ and Hans van de Groenendaal ZS6AKV are to be congratulated on having produced a paper ‘Amateur Radio as a Vehicle for Technology Literacy‘ which looks at the situation in Africa.

Africa faces a shortage of technologically-proficient people who can develop and maintain our ICT infrastructure and drive innovation to facilitate manufacturing and services.

Amateur Radio offers a vehicle for technology training that has reaped great rewards for many countries. The barriers to entry are continuously dropping.

The article explains the potential of Amateur Radio for technology development, looks at the current state of Amateur Radio in Africa and suggests avenues that might be explored to allow wider access on the continent.

The PDF can be downloaded here: https://ur.booksc.eu/dl/68281938/e2535a

Space weather physicist Dr Tamitha Skov has forecast that seven sunspots could cause Christmas chaos for radio and GPS users.

She pointed out that a massive coronal hole in the Sun’s core has been rapidly “rotating into the Earth’s strike zone”, warning that there is a “big flare potential”. Dr Skov said the fast solar wind coming from the large coronal hole has threatened up to a 45 percent chance of a major storm. She added that there are up to seven sunspot clusters on the Earth-facing disk, including several that are “big flare players”.

And she warned that, while one “massive solar storm” is not Earth-directed, we could even get some more big flares that have “blackout risks”.

She added: “Flares are starting to pop again, almost being like little paparazzi bulbs, and that could signify that we could get some bigger flares coming in here soon and cause some radio blackouts for GPS users and amateur radio operators, so stay vigilant.”

Finally, I wonder if you, like me, held your breath and watched with anxiety as the James Webb Space Telescope was launched on Christmas day at 14h20 CAT, from the European Space Agency launch facility at Kourou. Well the launch was absolutely flawless, but there are still so many control activities, 344 of them in fact, that have to occur consecutively and correctly, for the telescope to start functioning correctly at an orbit of 1 million miles from the earth. And remember, there is no “fix-it” mission possible if it doesn’t work. We continue to hold our breath over the next several weeks as it is progressively commissioned.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR wishing you all a Happy New Year, and reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 19th December 2021

By Monday of this week, Philippine nationals were being warned of the arrival of Tropical Cyclone RAI-21, moving from East to West, and due to strike the Philippines amidships on about Thursday.

The Global Disaster Alert Coordination System was predicting winds of up to 260 km/h, an alert level of RED, and 13 million people to be in the line of the strike zone. Thousands of people were being evacuated from their homes in central and southern Philippines.

The central and western Visayas region was the most threatened, with Mindanao and Luzon areas also expected to bear part of the brunt of the storm. Very heavy rain, strong winds and storm surges were to strike southern, central and western Philippines on Thursday.

By Saturday the death toll stood at 18 as the disaster agency warned of “severe damage” in the hardest-hit areas. More than 300,000 people fled their homes and beachfront resorts as Typhoon Rai ravaged the southern and central regions of the country, knocking out communications in many areas and toppling concrete power poles.

This is clearly still a developing story.

Rick, Palm, K1CE, who manages the Emcomm pages in QST magazine, has a problem that I definitely identify with. Writing in the weekly ARES letter from America, he says:

“[I have] a case for not programming repeaters into the memories of your radios.

“If you are like me and most other operators, you have programmed your area repeater frequencies into the memory channels of your radios. Recently, when I needed to switch to a new repeater frequency, I could not remember how to enter the [CTCSS] tone and offset – an aggravating factor may be that I’m almost 70 years old with a slowly eroding memory! I resorted to reading the radio’s operating manual. Now, I forego using the memory channels and instead enter the repeater frequency, offset, and [CTCSS] tone manually each and every time so that I’ll have the muscle memory needed to select repeater parameters on the fly in the field. Think about it – it only takes a second to enter the parameters.” Close quote.

He is not wrong. If I have two radios, I can’t remember how to do it on either of them!

On December 24th, SAQ in Grimeton, Sweden, is scheduled to transmit a Christmas message to the world, using the 97-year-old 200 kW Alexanderson Alternator on 17.2 kHz CW. At 0730 UTC, a livestream will begin on YouTube.

Start-up and tuning of the Alexanderson alternator will begin at 0800 UTC and transmissions soon after.

Some test transmissions will take place on December 23 between 1200 UTC and 1600 UTC and SAQ will be on the air for shorter periods during this interval, when technicians will be carrying out some tests and measurements.

Comments and reports are welcome. Amateur radio station SK6SAQ will be active on 3.535 MHz, 7.035 MHz, and 14.035 MHz CW, and on 3.755 MHz and 7.140 MHz SSB. Two stations will be on the air most of the time.

Thanks to the weekly ARRL newsletter for this summary. The 24th December is this Friday, folks, and the sunspot number and solar flux index has suddenly shot up. Let’s hope conditions remain good for this coming Friday.

Now, combining my two interests, I can tell you of the use of amateur radio repeaters in association with Magnetic Resonance Imagery (MRI) technology to improve diagnostic capability in medical investigations.

In Imaging Technology News on 16th December, I learnt that Scientists at the University of Tsukuba demonstrated how conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines can be retrofitted to detect sodium ions using a cross band radio-frequency repeater. This work may allow for new medical diagnostics to be performed without expensive new equipment.

Magnetic resonance imaging has become a crucial part of the medical toolkit for non-invasive visualization of internal organs. MRI machines operate by placing the patient in a very strong magnetic field, which will cause the nuclear spins of atoms in the body to align in the same direction, essentially acting like tiny magnets. Then, a radio-frequency (RF) signal of a very specific frequency is applied, which has the ability to flip the direction of the spins. When the nuclei relax back to their original aligned state, the precession of these spins about the magnet field direction can be measured by RF detector coils to determine the concentration of that particular atom. The majority of MRI machines in use today are optimized to look for the presence of hydrogen-1 (1H) nuclei, which are naturally abundant in the body as a component of water molecules. Retrofitting such a machine for detecting other isotopes, like sodium-23 (23Na), would require a great deal of expensive hardware upgrades.

Now, a team of researchers at the University of Tsukuba have demonstrated a proof-of-concept method for equipping a conventional MRI machine with the capability to image 23Na by installing a cross band RF repeater system. This is a device that receives signals at a certain frequency and rebroadcasts at a different one. “The RF repeater, which is a commonly used device in amateur radio, can be placed directly inside the magnet bore of an existing MRI machine as a cost-effective upgrade,” explains author Professor Yasuhiko Terada. This allows the frequency produced by 23Na, which is around 17 MHz, to be detected by the coils tuned at the 64 MHz frequency of MRI.

The research team tested the system with a saline “phantom” and an anesthetized mouse. Even though the resulting signal was much lower compared with custom-built 23Na machines, it could be amplified to produce comparable images. “Watching the motion of sodium ions inside the body provides detailed metabolic information not available from conventional MRI images,” Professor Terada says. 23Na imaging has already been shown to be useful for applications involving the kidney, owing to its large sodium concentration, as well as the brain and heart. This approach may substantially reduce health care costs by providing completely new abilities to existing machines without requiring a complete refurbishment.

The work is published in Magnetic Resonance in Medical Sciences. Thank you to ITN for this report.

It remains then only for me to wish those of you who celebrate at this time of year, a very Happy Christmas, where appropriate, and a safe and healthy 2022. Here’s hoping that the Omicron version of the Coronavirus will so overwhelm previous mutations, as to make the pandemic fizzle out into an endemic state, with very little morbidity and even less mortality!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 12th December 2021

HAMNET REPORT 12TH DECEMBER 2021

Out of the University of British Columbia comes research that has created what could be the first battery that is both flexible and washable. It works even when twisted or stretched to twice its normal length, or after being tossed in the laundry.

“Wearable electronics are a big market and stretchable batteries are essential to their development,” says Dr Ngoc Tan Nguyen, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s faculty of applied science. “However, up until now, stretchable batteries have not been washable. This is an essential addition if they are to withstand the demands of everyday use.”

The battery developed by Dr. Nguyen and his colleagues offers a number of engineering advances. In normal batteries, the internal layers are hard materials encased in a rigid exterior. The UBC team made the key compounds—in this case, zinc and manganese dioxide—stretchable by grinding them into small pieces and then embedding them in a rubbery plastic, or polymer. The battery comprises several ultra-thin layers of these polymers wrapped inside a casing of the same polymer. This construction creates an airtight, waterproof seal that ensures the integrity of the battery through repeated use.

It was team member Bahar Iranpour, a Ph.D. student, who suggested throwing the battery in the wash to test its seal. So far, the battery has withstood 39 wash cycles and the team expects to further improve its durability as they continue to develop the technology.

“We put our prototypes through an actual laundry cycle in both home and commercial-grade washing machines. They came out intact and functional and that’s how we know this battery is truly resilient,” says Iranpour.

The choice of zinc and manganese dioxide chemistry also confers another important advantage. “We went with zinc-manganese because for devices worn next to the skin, it’s a safer chemistry than lithium-ion batteries, which can produce toxic compounds when they break,” says Nguyen.

Ongoing work is underway to increase the battery’s power output and cycle life, but already the innovation has attracted commercial interest. The researchers believe that when the new battery is ready for consumers, it could cost the same as an ordinary rechargeable battery.

“The materials used are incredibly low-cost, so if this is made in large numbers, it will be cheap,” says electrical and computer engineering professor Dr. John Madden, director of UBC’s Advanced Materials and Process Engineering Lab who supervised the work. In addition to watches and patches for measuring vital signs, the battery might also be integrated with clothing that can actively change colour or temperature.

“Wearable devices need power. By creating a cell that is soft, stretchable and washable, we are making wearable power comfortable and convenient.”

The battery is described in a new paper published recently in Advanced Energy Materials. Thank you to TechXplore for this report.

Kate Nakamura, writing in Global Citizen, says that many liken climate change to the scenario of a slowly sinking ship. The creators of the latest in provocative climate change monuments view our planet’s demise as more of a plane crash.

Earth’s Black Box, created by data researchers, artists, and architects, will sit in Tasmania and record every single climate failing humans commit. Through news articles, tweets, and scientific journals, the black box, powered by solar energy, will listen and archive leaders’ climate actions and hope to inspire more to be done.

“The box will act as an indestructible and independent ledger of the ‘health’ of our planet,” Jonathan Kneebone, artist and co-founder of the artistic collective Glue Society, told CNN. “And we hope it will hold leaders to account and inspire action and reaction in the broader population.”

The structure will be composed of three-inch thick steel and, like its namesake, is meant to withstand the destruction of its aircraft (in this case, Earth). The black box will record land and ocean temperatures, military spending, atmospheric greenhouse gas, as well as biodiversity loss, all serving as an objective account of the climate disaster for future generations and the leaders of today.

The outdoor installation won’t be completed until next year and the creators are still in the process of figuring out certain aspects, such as how visitors will access the information sealed within the box, but it comes at a pivotal point in our planet’s history, where we have entered make-or-break scenarios.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) ended in November and science points to it as a failure. With current commitments, the earth will heat past the internationally agreed upon temperature threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius. We are currently at 1.1 degree Celsius of warming and current estimates predict that we are on track to reach 1.8C to 2.4C warming. At 1.1C we’re already seeing the deadly consequences of climate change, from extreme weather events to migration to famine.

Unlike the climate clock, an installation in New York City that calculates the time we have left and what we must do to keep the planet within 1.5C warming, the black box does not measure the amount of time until we crash. Although it’s intended to collect data through the next 50 years, its creators are looking into ways to keep it running for hundreds or thousands of years.

“The idea is if the Earth does crash as a result of climate change, this indestructible recording device will be there for whoever’s left to learn from that,” Jim Curtis of Clemenger BBDO, where the project was conceived, told ABC News.

The New York Times reported that the location of Tasmania was picked due to its “geopolitical and environmental safety” and the structure will be built to withstand natural threats such as weather occurrences and earthquakes.

Since COP26 in Glasgow, the black box has been collecting data and will continue to collect climate-related content from the past and future. While some scientists argue that there is very little evidence that global warming will result in human extinction, the black box’s website states that the project is meant for future generations to understand the steps it took to lead the earth into its demise and hold leaders accountable for their responsibilities.

“How the story ends is completely up to us,” reads the website. “Only one thing is certain; your actions, inactions, and interactions are now being recorded.”

We must hope that it is never necessary for our descendants to look back through the records, and pinpoint the exact moment we dropped the ball and let climate change pass a point of no return.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 5th December 2021

HAMNET REPORT 5TH DECEMBER 2021

Here’s a situation in a quantum computer lab, where a Ph.D might not have been as useful as a qualification in lock-picking!

The South China Morning Post reported last weekend that water leaking through the ceiling of a Chinese national research facility might have destroyed a new-generation quantum computer under construction if not for the quick action of students working late.

The incident has brought attention to the fragility of the hi-tech machines, but also the vulnerability of the humans who design and operate them.

Around 2am on Sunday morning, 26-year-old doctoral student Zhong Hansen was working at the Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences at the Microscale in Anhui province when he noticed water spilling into his lab, according to an official investigation.

The lab was filled with expensive equipment, some of which was unique. More than 180 superconducting detectors cooled by liquid nitrogen alone cost more than 24 million yuan (US$3.7 million). They were part of Jiuzhang 3, China’s next world-leading quantum computer based on light, and Zhong was working late writing code for an experiment.

He found the water was coming from a locked laboratory. After calling for help, other students also still at work joined him in the rescue bid. With the help of security guards they forced the door open and stemmed the leak.

The authorities rewarded Zhong and four other students with 120,000 yuan (US$19,000) between them. In a statement on Thursday, the national research centre said much equipment might have been destroyed and the Jiuzhang 3 project “delayed by over a year”.

Perhaps lock-picking should be included as a module in your Ph.D course!

I have posted previously my concerns over the huge constellation of Starlink satellites being placed in low earth orbit, and the effect their presence and RF signals might have on visible light and radio-astronomy. I continue to be worried, and note that telemetry is becoming trackable from them now. Southgate Amateur Radio News reports from Hackaday.com that often, mere curiosity is sufficient to do something. This is also the case with people trying to analyse the communication setup and protocol which SpaceX is using with their Ku-band based Starlink satellites.

One of these fine folk is Christian Hahn, who has recently posted some early findings to r/StarlinkEngineering over at Reddit. Some of the captured data seems to include the satellite ID system that ground-based user stations would presumably use to keep track of overhead Starlink satellites.

For the capturing itself, Christian is using a second-hand dish for capture and a DIY SDR using KC705 FPGA-based hardware – which may have begun its life as crypto mining hardware – along with the usual assortment of filters and other common components with this kind of capture.

Even at this early time, some features of the Starlink protocol seem quite obvious, such as the division into channels and the use of guard periods. Nothing too earth-shattering, but as a fun SDR hobby it definitely checks all the boxes.

Christian has also announced that at some point he’ll set up a website and publish the findings and code that should make Starlink signal analysis easy for anyone with a readily available SDR receiver.

It remains for the radio-astronomy body to determine what degree of interference the satellites will cause to the astronomers!

And several sites have posted about the real threat two astronauts aboard the ISS would have faced had they done their planned space-walk on Tuesday the 30th, because of risks to their spacesuits caused by space debris after a Russian satellite was destroyed earlier in an experiment by the Russians.

All aboard the ISS were obliged to take cover in their respective “lifeboats” until the immediate threat was over. The debris spread out over the next few orbits, and was calculated no longer to pose a threat, and the spacewalk to replace a defective 20 year old S-band antenna took place successfully on Thursday the 2nd December.

A report from India says that solid, metal antennae have been the standard in a wide range of technologies for decades, including a wide variety of radio communications and scanning such as radar. However, research into the concept of liquid antennae was discussed in the 1990s. A liquid antenna would comprise a lightweight and perhaps collapsible container that could be erected into the appropriate shape and filled with a suitable liquid. Water, saltwater, ionic liquids, and other substances have been investigated over the years.

New work in the International Journal of Ultra Wideband Communications and Systems offers a novel design of a conical structure for a liquid antenna that can operate effectively across a wide frequency range. The antenna is compact and cost effective the team reports as well as offering a simple way to reconfigure it for different applications, something that is not easy with a solid metal antenna. Conical antennae are usually the form required for radio-frequency broadcast.

Roopa and E. Kiran Kumar of the Siddaganga Institute of Technology Tumakuru, in Karnataka, India, have demonstrated proof of principle for their new type of liquid antenna using pure water, seawater, and glycerine as the liquid component. The device can achieve voltage standing wave ratio of 1 to 2 over a frequency range of 300 to 850 megahertz, the team reports. They add that the gain achieved in experimental results was 2 dBi, which is comparable with their simulations in which the gain is around 1.9 dBi. The operating frequency is adjusted by changing the height of liquid within the cone.

The team concludes that their proposed antenna is simple, low cost, and covers a wide range of frequencies, which can be tuned easily. The radio emission from the antenna is omnidirectional and the fact that it is transparent gives it an additional attractive design feature for the development of wireless applications. In addition, the antenna is 30 to 40 percent shorter than its equivalent metal antenna.

Thanks to techxplore for that report.

I don’t know about you, but I can see this technology very rapidly catching on in amateur radio. Just imagine – with a few minor adjustments to the chosen additives to the liquid inside the antenna, one might not be at all disappointed if the bands seemed closed. One would be obliged to sit back in a comfortable camping chair, to drink the contents of the antenna, and watch the smoke curl over the coals as you grill your steak to perfection! Now that is the very essence of amateur radio! Who needs sunspots anyway?

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 28th November 2021

HAMNET REPORT 28TH NOVEMBER 2021

Engineering and Technology says that a European team of scientists have, for the first time ever, bounced a LoRa (LOng RAnge) message off the Moon. The feat set a new record of 730,360km for the furthest distance a LoRa message has ever travelled. It was also the first time a data message was bounced using an off-the-shelf small RF (radio-frequency) chip. For a brief moment in time, the entire message ‘PI9CAM’ was in space on its way from Earth to the Moon and back.

The experiment also proved that LoRa technology, used for many IoT (Internet of Things) applications, can cover such great distances and that it is possible to send and receive low-powered messages from the Moon. This could become relevant for future lunar communications.

The team, some of whom were licensed radio amateurs, consisted of Jan van Muijlwijk (CAMRAS); Tammo Jan Dijkema (CAMRAS); Thomas Telkamp (Lacuna Space), and Frank Zeppenfeldt (ESA). To achieve the transmission, the team used the Dwingeloo radio telescope, operated by the CAMRAS foundation in the Netherlands. The radio telescope has a history of being used in amateur radio experiments and is now often used for Moon bounces.

Nicolas Sornin, co-inventor of LoRa, said: “This is a fantastic experiment. I had never dreamed that one day a LoRa message would travel all the way to the Moon and back. I am impressed by the quality of the data captured. This dataset is going to become a classic for radio communications and signal processing students. [I send a] big thumbs up to the team and CAMRAS foundation for making this possible.”

Telkamp, CTO of Lacuna Space, a global connectivity provider for the IoT, said: “Seeing the message coming back from the Moon was exhilarating. From the round-trip time we were able to calculate the distance to the Moon, matching very well the predicted values of Nasa’s JPL Horizons ephemeris system. We even used the echo to see the shape of the Moon, which we didn’t imagine we could.”

LoRa is one of the low-power wide-area network communication technologies and is Semtech’s proprietary ultra-long-distance wireless transmission technology. On 5 October 2021, the team transmitted the signal with a Semtech LR1110 RF transceiver chip (in the 430-440Mhz amateur band), amplified to 350 Watt, using the 25-metre dish of the telescope. 2.44 seconds later, it was received by the same chip.

Using the LR1110 RF chip, the team also measured the frequency offset due to the Doppler effect caused by the relative motion of the Earth and the Moon.

One of the messages sent and received contained a full LoRaWAN frame, consisting of a header (information such as device address and message counter), payload (the data actually sent), and payload CRC (integrity check of payload).

In addition to the LoRa chips, the team used an SDR (software-defined radio) to capture both the transmitted and received signal for further analysis. These measurements together with analysis notebooks will be published as open data.

Michael Taylor ZS1MJT, our Regional Director of HAMNET in the Western Cape has advertised a Drone Briefing, by Fabian Higgins, about the Provincial Emergency Medical Services’ Drone Programme. It will take place on Wednesday the 8th December at 18h30, and should last about 45 minutes. He will describe the capabilities of the rescue drone, and how WSAR rescue teams can collaborate with the drone team for best results. The talk will be followed by Q and A time.

Michael has sent an invitation to Western Cape HAMNET members with a URL to fill in a registration form. Apply to Michael at michael@trailrunners.co.za if you don’t receive the notification.

At the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France, in September, the Mediterranean plastic crisis was firmly on the agenda. Representatives from tourist-sensitive countries, including France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus, lined up to bemoan the level of plastic pollution and to highlight their own efforts to combat the problem.

According to a report last year by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the total volume of plastic waste in the Mediterranean, found mostly beneath the waves, could be as much as 3.5 million tons, with anything between 150,000 and 610,000 additional tons finding its way into the sea every year.

For the 21 countries that share the 28,000 km Mediterranean coastline, the half a billion people who live on the sea or along the 1,693 watersheds that feed it, and the 340 million tourists who typically visit in a normal year, this is a growing problem.

But of all those countries, just one has been singled out as the biggest single source of the problem. The finger of blame is pointing squarely at Egypt, which the IUCN says is responsible for releasing more plastic into the sea than any other nation, and twice as much as the second-worst offender.

According to the IUCN report “The Mediterranean: Mare Plasticum” — Latin for “the plastic sea” — is “widely regarded as one of the most threatened environments in the world” and “is subject to a now ubiquitous, man-made disaster: Plastic pollution.”

The worst offender, says the IUCN, is Egypt, responsible each year for the “leakage” of over 74,000 tons of macroplastics — pieces with a diameter greater than 5 mm — followed by Italy (34,000 tons) and Turkey (24,000 tons).

Together, these three “hotspot” countries contribute more than 50 percent of the 216,269 tons of macroplastics that end up in the Mediterranean Sea each year, overwhelmingly as a result of “mismanaged waste.”

When it comes to microplastics — over 13,000 tons of which finds its way into the sea — Egypt fares little better, ranking second only to Italy (3,000 tons a year), with 1,200 tons. Tyre dust accounts for more than half of the total of microplastics, followed by textiles (33 percent) and the plastic microbeads used in cosmetics (12 percent).

Although bottles and other plastic waste are omnipresent on Mediterranean beaches, most of the polluting plastic is beneath the surface, fouling sediment and disrupting the life cycles of multiple species of fish and aquatic plants.

Time for us all to start picking up after us, folks!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 21st November 2021

Southgate Amateur Radio news says that the German Amateur Radio community reports that the flood disasters in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate have shown that functioning communication in crisis situations is of great importance, but not a matter of course.

A translation of the DARC post reads:

The DARC department for emergency and disaster radio has taken the knowledge from the affected areas as an opportunity to develop a concept for future support of the population in such emergency situations.

“In times of prolonged communication failure, the unit would like to be prepared in order to be able to support the population and independent helpers on site. That is why we created a concept that many external helpers from business, aid organizations, the fire brigade, the German armed forces and politics helped develop,” explains Oliver Schlag, DL7TNY, the DARC’s federal officer for Emergency and Disaster Radio eV.

The focus here is both on building up and maintaining a base of material at the federal level as well as expanding the regional emergency radio groups. The aim is to build up a pool of material and helpers, who can then set up and operate a temporary network with access to the Internet, for example, for the citizens in damaged areas.

In the coming months, the volunteers will set up the prototype of such a regional emergency radio group and its material, at the federal level. For the first steps, the unit uses the additional financial resources from the [DARC] Pro membership. The DARC board has decided that the money will be used to support this project in the coming year. In order to achieve maximum dissemination and response from the public, the prototype is to be presented nationwide in the second phase. The aim here is to find external donors for the expansion of the prototype to cover the whole of Germany.

“An active emergency radio that broadly supports society is good evidence that we radio amateurs can use the frequencies assigned to us responsibly and in the interests of the community. But we are also dependent on help from business and politics”, concluded the DARC emergency radio officer.

EOS science news reports that Zimbabwe plans to launch its first satellite, ZIMSAT-1, in February 2022. The CubeSat will host a multispectral camera and image classification tool, as well as a device to transmit and receive signals from amateur radio operators. Scientists said these tools will allow stakeholders more quickly and fully to assess data for issues like ground cover and drought.

ZIMSAT-1 is the latest mission from the Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Satellite (BIRDS) project, a multinational program to help countries build their first satellite. ZIMSAT-1 was built by Zimbabwean engineers working with the Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will launch it. In addition to the satellite itself, BIRDS supports a free app (BIRDS-NEST) with which satellite images from ZIMSAT-1 can be downloaded onto smartphones.

ZIMSAT-1 will be a capstone to Zimbabwe’s fast growing space program, which was established in 2018 as the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency (ZINGSA), housed at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. In 2020, ZINGSA was allocated $7 million.

Wilfred Nunu, public health lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, welcomed the launch of the satellite as “a good idea…. It is also a positive step towards ensuring we have access to data for most of our projects in line with remote sensing.”

Nunu said he is “100% likely” to use data from the satellite. “We usually struggle to download data, particularly in our projects relating to land use and land cover changes for a wide period of time. We also do drought monitoring in light of climate change,” he said.

Twenty-two years after South Africa launched the first African satellite, SunSat-1, the continent’s satellite fleet stands at 44. African countries including Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Sudan have successfully launched satellites.

Thanks to EOS for these excerpts from their report.

Now here are some notes after a sports event that all radio amateurs who are willing to help their local community will recognise as typical of their Emcomm activities.

The ARRL Newsletter for Thursday the 18th says that Twenty-two radio amateurs from the Western Placer Amateur Radio Club (WPARC) in Lincoln, California, provided communications and other support for the Rotary Club of Lincoln Tour de Lincoln charity bicycle event on October 30. The Tour de Lincoln consists of three routes — 25-kilometre, 50-kilometre, and 100-kilometre rides through the hills of Lincoln, California. At least 425 riders participated in this year’s event, with 230 of them on the 100-kilometre route. The mayor of Lincoln participated in the 50-kilometre ride. This was the 14th year that WPARC volunteers have supported the event.

“Our goal is to help the cyclists, their support crews, and their families have a safe and enjoyable event,” said Roger Brunnquell, K6OU, the club coordinator for the event. “Similar to a real emergency event, we have to be flexible in our planning and execution.”

“This year, we had 14 support and gear (SAG) units on the course and hams at the three rest stops,” Brunnquell said. “All ham radio vehicles on the course and at rest stops bore SAG signs printed on bright orange cardstock so riders could flag them for help,” he explained.

“We take our responsibilities very seriously, but have a lot of fun at the same time. One of our rules as a club is that we never leave [our assigned positions] as long as there is a rider on the course,” said Michael Buck, K6BUK, who leads the net control team for the event. “At net control, we log the time and content of every communication.”

The Net Control Station (NCS) was located at the event’s base and the riders’ starting and ending point. The experienced team of three net control operators set up a station, ran the event, and interacted with the event director, from coordinating vehicle rollout to staffing rest-stop relay stations, checking out first aid and mechanical kits, and preparing for the event.

After 20 years of assisting at the Two Oceans Marathon, every word of the report resonates with me, and probably, for similar reasons, with most of you.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 14th November 2021

eNCA reports that the blast from a fuel tanker that blew up in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown last week claimed 131 lives, authorities said on Wednesday.

“(The) death toll has risen to 131, with 63 people hospitalised,” Lamarana Bah, head of communications at the National Disaster Management Agency, told AFP.

The disaster happened when a lorry crashed into a fuel tanker on Friday in an industrial area of Freetown. A crowd gathered to try to scoop up leaking fuel but the tanker then blew up, engulfing them in a fireball.

The country made an appeal for blood donations and bandages, painkillers and infusion fluids for the injured.

The World Health Organisation managed to deliver 6.6 metric tons of emergency medical supplies by the 8th of November. to support the government and people of Sierra Leone in responding to the fire disaster on the 5th. The emergency medical kits contain medicines, fluid infusions, disinfectants, autoclave sterilizer, dressings for burns and gloves amongst other things. These commodities can treat as many as 600 people with severe burns.

Our thoughts are with the survivors, and the medical teams treating them.

Michael, ZS1MJT, has again reported on a search-and-rescue exercise involving the software SARTrack, and Automatic Position Reporting System (APRS) tracker beacons, to monitor the progress of searchers in a simulation.

On the 6th of November, he assisted the Hottentot’s Holland division of the Mountain Club of South Africa in the Stellenbosch area, as they practised their search techniques. Five teams set off from a base, equipped with tracker beacons, transmitting their coordinates every two minutes, while Michael received the signals by radio, and SARTrack decoded their positions and displayed them on a map.

Because he had cell phone reception at the base, he was able to export the tracking information on to the internet using a hotspot he created on his cell phone. This meant other authorities, who needed to know where the searchers were, didn’t need to be peering over his shoulder at the base.

In fact, he says, SARTrack “could be positioned in an area where there is better line of sight to the APRS units. This can then be connected to the internet, and base in turn can monitor from the internet. The entire time, the radio and laptop was run off 12V DC, confirming that the setup can be operated in remote areas or during load shedding where electricity supply is not needed.”

He also noted that he was “operating in HAM mode and although good enough for the exercise, it is more limited compared to Search-and-Rescue (SAR) mode. We are hoping to use SAR mode next time to practise with the local server, giving more options and saving search details to use in training or being able to refer back to incidents should queries arise,” he said.

He regards the exercise as proving to be a “valuable learning curve for all, showing the capabilities and ease of operation for Search and Rescue.”

Thanks, Michael for making those features more obviously useful for us all.

Those of you interested in Mars exploration will have been fired up by the Perseverance Mission this year, and the helicopter Ingenuity, which is still flying missions long after its expected failure. But did you know the numbers surrounding a satellite which orbits Mars called Mars Odyssey Orbiter?

This less well known satellite and seldom quoted orbiter has now been orbiting Mars for 20 years, completing 88000 orbits of the planet, and supporting 6 Mars missions that took place after it was there. Furthermore, it has taken 1.2 million images of the planet, returned 16 Terabits of data to Earth, and relayed 1 Terabit of data from mars surface missions! Bearing in mind that all the technology on that spacecraft was developed before it was placed in orbit 20 years ago, in other words about 25 years ago, it has done jolly well to keep going, doing what it does without failure. That says a lot about the quality control of the mechatronics on board!

Now, if I could only get my toaster to keep working like that!

And while we’re verging on the ridiculous, the Daily Maverick informed me on Tuesday that the statute books in Oklahoma say that 7pm in the evening is the cutoff time for you legally to have a donkey in your bathtub! I kid you not. You cannot make this stuff up..

Now more down to earth, so to speak, and from the Sun, an active region on the Sun was seen bursting to life on Tuesday and releasing an M2-class or “medium-large” solar flare. The sudden burst of energy was recorded at about 17h01 UTC on the Sun’s north-eastern side. A sequence of images snapped by NASA’S Solar Dynamics Observatory showed an intense burst of light erupting from the Sun’s surface.

The announcement was corroborated by the US Space Weather Prediction Centre (SWPC), which warned of minor radio blackout impacts and “occasional loss of radio contact” on the Earth’s sunlit side on Wednesday.

Solar flares are ranked on a scale of C-class to X-class, based on their brightness and X-ray wavelengths. The weakest (C-class) flares typically go unnoticed by most as they tend not to disrupt technology on Earth.

X-class flares are much more concerning as they have the potential to knock out radio communications and trigger radiation storms in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. One such flare erupted from the Sun last month and was followed by a significant coronal mass ejection (CME) – a large stream of plasma and magnetic field from the Sun’s atmosphere.

Wednesday’s storm was an M2-class, meaning it was medium-sized but still big enough to disrupt communications over parts of the planet. Medium-sized flares are sometimes followed by minor radiation storms and CMEs.

According to the website SpaceWeather.com, the flare appears to have knocked out some radio communications over the Americas.

The explosion almost certainly produced a CME, but it wasn’t Earth-directed because the blast arose from an active region located just behind the Sun’s north-eastern limb.

Coronal mass ejections are large clouds of solar plasma and magnetic field that can interact with the Earth’s magnetosphere after a solar eruption. According to NASA, they often measure many millions of miles across as they fan out into space.

Thank you to express.co.uk for this summary of their news report.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.