HAMNET Report 21st February 2021

I’m sure anybody who lives in the Eastern half of South Africa is watching the development of Tropical Cyclone Guambe in the Mozambique Channel with interest. There have been dramatic time-lapse videos of the cloud formation as the storm starts to build. Forecasts during this last week have suggested the cyclone will turn east as it passes the southern tip of Madagascar and travel off harmlessly into the Indian Ocean. We continue to watch. The northern half of South Africa has already had its fair share of rain this rainy season, as pictures of the Orange River in full spate at the Augrabies Falls show. Let’s hope we get off this cyclone lightly.

Meanwhile the Southern United States, Texas and Indiana in particular, are experiencing bitterly cold weather. Snow, sleet, rain, and sub-zero temperatures abound, and there are stories of people sleeping inside tents inside their houses, on the grounds that it is easier to keep the small area inside the tent warm than it is to keep the whole house warm. Snowfalls of up to 30cm were measured in some towns.

The Washington Post reports that “millions of Texans remain without power for what could be days, and hospitals throughout Texas have now lost water and heat, leaving doctors scrambling to conserve resources and coronavirus vaccine shots while caring for vulnerable residents.”

The ARRL News reports that ARES volunteers in Southern Texas, New Mexico, Illinois, and Alabama are either on standby or have been activated to carry messages and assist the communities where required. A strong unseasonal tornado hit eastern North Carolina on Monday, killing three people and destroying homes. Twenty eight others have died in the extreme weather across the country.

The New Zealand Herald reports this week that a crew of 12 Land Search and Rescue volunteers, as well as members of the Amateur Radio Emergency Communications group were involved this week in the search for an elderly Invercargill man missing from his rest home since Monday.

He apparently has trouble communicating, due to a stroke, has limited mobility and is unlikely to approach anyone.

Police were contacted about his disappearance on Monday, about 1pm, and search and rescue volunteers were involved from about 5pm. He was last seen at the rest home at 8am. Since then, residential areas, Queens Park, the railway tracks, green spaces and the Otepuni Stream have been searched, some areas more than once.

Sgt Martin of the Invercargill Police said the search had involved dog handlers and kayakers going down the stream. Those involved were extremely concerned for his welfare, given that the temperature dropped to 1.3deg Celsius on Tuesday night.

Local residents were asked to search their properties, even if they have previously searched them, as the man was believed to be on foot and might have wandered on to a property. People with CCTV cameras on their properties were asked to review the footage and submit it to police if they saw anyone who looked like the lost man.

We can only hope the search ends happily.

I’m sure a large proportion of you sat up on Thursday evening, and watched while the Jet Propulsion Laboratory team supervising Perseverance’s landing on Mars bit their fingernails to the bone, waiting for the delayed news of its safe landing. Everything had to be automatic of course, because a one-way radio trip to Percy, as she is affectionately called by her controllers, takes 11 minutes. So there’s no immediate decision-making going on there. Percy had to make up her own mind where and how to land, and she did.

The difference with this lander, of course, was that JPL was not disconnected from her during the landing, because she was able to relay telemetry to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) above her during those 7 minutes of terror.

But did you know that a team of five people came together to create a social media persona for Perseverance. On Twitter and Facebook, the team has worked hard to show that Perseverance is a “boss.” The team messages in English and Spanish.

Ultimately, they were just trying to bring everybody along with the mission. They got together and thought about what makes this rover different. What makes this rover different from the others that have gone before it? What was different about its story?

And it wasn’t about just giving a voice to Perseverance. The rover has a personality; a drive to succeed that informs its choices. Linda Rivera, a digital and social media specialist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who on Thursday monitored Perseverance’s Facebook account, said the character-creation processes included deep thoughts about things like the rover’s hobbies.

Amusingly, according to Twitter, those hobbies are photography, collecting rocks and off-roading!

“I’m safe on Mars” was the first tweet to emerge after she landed safely on Thursday evening, our time.  “Perseverance will get you anywhere”, was another! So was “I’ve come nearly 300 million miles, and I’m just getting started”.

“If Perseverance is anything, she’s a boss,” said Stefanie Smith, the JPL’s digital and social media lead. “She’s the biggest, most ambitious rover we’ve ever sent to the surface of another planet. She’s got a rock vaporizing laser on her head, just like Curiosity did.

“But she’s unlike Curiosity, who, while charming, isn’t as capable as Perseverance. Curiosity can’t walk and chew gum. Curiosity can’t drive and think about driving at the same time. Perseverance can. Perseverance has a second brain and if Perseverance had gone to college, she would have been summa [cum laude]. But she’s also super-lovable.”

The Twitter account has been providing updates on Perseverance since March 2020. It got started by letting the world know its name.

“Call me Perseverance,” the account’s first tweet reads. It adds: “I’m headed for Mars: driven to search for signs of ancient life, test new tech to help future human explorers, and collect the first rock samples for future return to Earth.”

Twitter’s official account responded: “Please find water”!

The nuclear-powered, 1025kg (2,260-pound) rover’s mission is to “seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (i.e. broken rock and soil) for possible return to Earth,” according to NASA.

So far, all seems to be going according to plan.

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

HAMNET Report 14th February 2021

I will start by correcting myself regarding the expected touch-down time of the Mars Perseverance lander. I thought it would happen in our morning of the 18th February, but of course, we are ahead of America, and so touch-down is expected at around 21h15 our time that evening, or 2.15pm Eastern Standard Time. I am not sure what time NASA TV will start transmitting but YouTube is the place to look. Don’t forget!

Incidentally, a satellite from the United Arab Emirates and one from China were due to arrive at and be inserted into orbit around Mars this past week. This is the first time that satellites from three different countries all arrive at Mars within a few days of each other!

The ARRL says in its news that the hamradio.org domain has been donated to the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) for non-profit educational use to promote the amateur and amateur satellite services, by its owner Andrew J. Wolfram KI7RYC.

In accepting this gift, IARU President Tim Ellam, VE6SH, said, “The hamradio.org domain offers a unique opportunity for which we are deeply grateful to Andrew. It is our intention to develop a website that can serve as a focal point for anyone, anywhere, who may be seeking information on amateur radio, which is better known as ‘ham radio’ by the general public.”

The IARU is the global federation of national amateur radio organizations with member-societies in more than 160 countries and separate territories. Since its founding in 1925, the IARU has successfully defended and expanded access to the radio spectrum by radio amateurs internationally.

This is a wonderful domain, easy to remember, and likely to be put to good use by the IARU. We join the IARU in expressing gratitude to Andrew.

Jose A Mendez EA9E, EmComm coordinator for Spain in IARU Region1 has informed the mailing list that an exercise called # EMCOMNET2K21 / 1 will be held on February 21, 2021 from 11:00 a.m. to 13:00 CAT.

In Spain, the effects of the Filomena snowstorm of mid-January isolated many small towns, and so the objective of the exercise will be to establish two special stations EH1NET and EH4NET to support communications on SSB (on 7110.0 kHz ) and two other special stations EH9NET and EH5NET giving message support on the Winlink VARA HF system.

Please be aware of the use of 7110 kHz next Sunday late morning.

Space weather events, triggered by solar emissions and their interactions with Earth’s atmosphere, can have significant effects on communications and navigation technology and on electric power systems. As with terrestrial weather events, the economic impacts of space weather–related disruptions can be substantial, affecting satellite systems as well as systems on the ground. A severe geomagnetic storm could have a catastrophic effect on modern infrastructure. Even solar storms of more ordinary size can induce currents in the power grid that drive up energy prices, affecting manufacturing and commerce.

Considerable interest exists in developing space weather forecasting technologies that use Earth’s ionosphere as a sensor for events in its neighbouring atmospheric layers. The ionosphere occupies a privileged niche in the geospace system, as it is coupled into both the terrestrial weather of the neutral atmosphere below and the space weather of the magnetosphere above.

Although we have a good understanding of ionospheric climate—diurnal and seasonal variations are well known, as are the rhythms of the sunspot cycle—there are new and vital areas of research to be explored. For example, it is known that the ionosphere—and near-Earth space—experiences variability (e.g., radio signals can fade in and out over periods of seconds, minutes, or hours due to changes in ionospheric electron densities along signal propagation paths), but this variability has not been sampled or studied adequately on regional and global scales.

To understand variability fully on small spatial scales and short timescales, the scientific community will require vastly larger and denser sensing networks that collect data on continental and global scales. With open-source instrumentation cheaper and more plentiful than ever before, the time is ripe for amateur scientists to take distributed measurements of the ionosphere—and the amateur radio community is up for the challenge.

The Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation (HamSCI) is a collective that unites amateur radio operators with the research community in the space and atmospheric sciences. This confederation of scientists, engineers, and hobbyists holds annual workshops during which ham radio operators and space scientists share findings. A new HamSCI effort, the Personal Space Weather Station project, aims to develop a robust and scalable network of amateur stations that will allow amateurs to collect useful data for space science researchers. The next HamSCI workshop will be held virtually 19–21 March 2021, and it will focus on mid-latitude ionospheric measurements.

Amateur radio operators have an empirical knowledge of space weather because they want to know when and on what frequencies they can establish communications—and when and where they cannot. Changes in the ionosphere like those caused by the day–night transition or by solar activity can impede or aid communications on various frequencies. Amateur radio frequency allocations are distributed throughout the electromagnetic spectrum, enabling useful propagation experiments for any frequency range.

Ham radio is currently experiencing a technical renaissance, thanks to the advent of inexpensive single-board computing platforms and open-source software. Such computer-based systems serve as virtual radio repeaters, connecting computers via the Internet to actual ham radios in the real world to enable remote control and data collection. Beyond the old-fashioned pursuit of voice communication, the lure of maker movement projects and the removal of the Morse code requirement from the amateur licensing exam have led to a greater number of licensed amateurs than ever before.

Thank you to EOS Science News for these paragraphs from their report.

Finally, it being the 14th February today, it is my happy duty to wish all of you in meaningful relationships a happy Valentine’s Day. Today is the day you spoil your significant other rotten, telling your partner how special she or he is to you, which is just long enough for you to slip out, while your better half is glowing with enchantment, to go back to your ham shack for some decent contacts!

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

 

HAMNET Report 7th February 2021

Southgate Amateur Radio News reports that, for the first time ever, a telecommunications satellite has used an iodine propellant to change its orbit around Earth.

The small but potentially disruptive innovation could help to clear the skies of space junk, by enabling tiny satellites to self-destruct cheaply and easily at the end of their missions, by steering themselves into the atmosphere where they would burn up. The technology could also be used to boost the mission lifetime of small CubeSats that monitor agricultural crops on Earth, or entire mega-constellations of nanosats that provide global internet access, by raising their orbits when they begin to drift towards the planet.

The technology was developed by ThrustMe, a spin-off company from the �cole Polytechnique and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and supported by ESA through its programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES). It uses a novel propellant – iodine – in an electric thruster that controls the satellite’s height above Earth. Iodine is less expensive and uses simpler technologies than traditional propellants. Unlike many traditional propellants, iodine is non-toxic and it is solid at room temperature and pressure. This makes it easier and cheaper to handle on Earth. When heated, it turns to gas without going through a liquid phase, which makes it ideal for a simple propulsion system. It is also denser than traditional propellants, so it occupies smaller volumes on board the satellite.

ThrustMe launched its iodine thruster on a commercial research nanosat called SpaceTy Beihangkongshi-1 that went into space in November 2020. It was test fired earlier this month before being used to change the orbit of the satellite.

Dawn O’Shea, writing in Medscape’s Univadis publication, says that listening to music can significantly reduce anxiety and pain after major heart surgery, found by a pooled data analysis of the available evidence, published in the online journal Open Heart.

To see if music might help patients undergoing major heart surgery and reduce their length of hospital stay and need for drugs and mechanical ventilation, etc., researchers searched five electronic databases for relevant clinical trials published up to October 2019. They reviewed 20 studies, involving 1,169 patients, and pooled data from 16 involving 987 patients.

The first postoperative music session was associated with the equivalent reduction of 4 points on the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory and 1.05 points on the Visual Analogue Scale/Numeric Rating Scale for anxiety, along with a 1.26 points reduction on the Visual Analogue Scale/Numeric Rating Scale for pain.

Several days of listening to music also reduced anxiety for up to eight days after surgery.

Listening to music was not associated with significant effects on opioids use, length of hospital stay, time spent on mechanical ventilation, blood pressure, heart rate, or breathing rate.

As music has neither risks nor known side effects, unlike drugs, but may influence health outcomes, clinicians should consider it for patients scheduled for major heart surgery, suggest the researchers.

And the Star Advertiser mentions a report from Japan News that says Japan’s government will use communications among smart­-phones as well as a satellite to quickly assess damage from natural disasters and implement rescue operations in areas where telecommunications have been disrupted.

The system, currently being tested in 24 municipalities, would be implemented when cell-phone base stations and other telecommunication infrastructure have been damaged. It uses Bluetooth technology to collect information from private phones via smartphone-to-smartphone communication [a kind of mesh-networking].

The system uses an app that allows residents to enter data on injuries and situations, and will help to speed up evacuation after a disaster. Data is relayed to nearby smartphones, which continue the chain of relaying the information to other phones.

When a resident with data loaded in a smartphone approaches an evacuation centre, the information is sent to the Michibiki 3 satellite, which is connected to military, police and other related organizations. Data can also be shared with family members outside a disaster area.

The technology, developed by Tohoku University, is expected to launch in a few years.

RMS Titanic, Inc., (RMST) the company that owns salvage rights to the Titanic shipwreck, has put off its plans to retrieve the vessel’s radio equipment for exhibit indefinitely. The company cited the coronavirus pandemic for the delay, according to a January 29 court filing. The Atlanta-based company said its plans have faced “increasing difficulty associated with international travel and logistics, and the associated health risks to the expedition team.” RMST’s primary source of revenue comes from its exhibits of its vast collection of Titanic relics, which have been closed or seen only limited attendance due to virus-related restrictions.

RMST — a subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions and the “salvor-in-possession” of the Titanic wreck site — said its planned expedition to recover the ship’s wireless station equipment remains a top priority, however, and will “take place as soon as reasonably practicable.” The Marconi-equipped station transmitted the distress calls after the Titanic (on its maiden voyage) struck an iceberg some 370 miles off the coast of Newfoundland in 1912 and began sinking. The transmissions, heard by some nearby vessels, have been credited with helping rescue some 700 passengers in lifeboats deployed from the Titanic, but about 1,500 passengers were lost.

RMST has been in an ongoing legal battle with the US government over whether the recovery operation would be legal. In May 2020, a US federal judge in Virginia gave permission to retrieve the wireless gear, ruling that the company would be permitted “minimally to cut into the wreck” to access the radio room.

RMST has said the radio room may be reachable via an already-open skylight. But, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has contended that the retrieval expedition is still prohibited under US law and under an international agreement between the US and the UK.

The wreck, some 2 1/2 miles beneath the surface, remained undiscovered until 1985.

Thank you to this week’s ARRL Letter for this latter report.

Finally, a reminder that the Mars Perseverance Rover will hopefully land safely on Mars on Thursday the 18th February, at about 09h00 our time. It is aiming for the Jezero Crater, which once contained a lake, and which provides the investigators with an ideal place to find evidence of ancient microbial life there.

NASA TV will start its broadcast on that day at about 7am, our time, and the easiest way to view it is via the NASA YouTube channel. Don’t forget, see!

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

HAMNET Report 31st January 2021

Researchers from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) and The University of Western Australia (UWA) have achieved a new world record for the most stable laser signal transmission through the atmosphere.

Australian researchers collaborated with researchers from the French National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) and the French metrology lab Systèmes de Référence Temps-Espace (SYRTE) at Paris Observatory for the study, which was published recently in the Nature Communications journal.

The group combined the Australian researchers’ “phase stabilisation” technology with sophisticated self-guiding optical terminals to set the world record for the most stable transmission of a laser signal.

When used in combination, both the technologies enabled laser signals to be transmitted from one point to the other without any interference from the atmosphere. According to the lead author of the study Benjamin Dix-Matthews, who is a PhD student at ICRAR and UWA, the technique effectively removes atmospheric turbulence.

“We can correct for atmospheric turbulence in 3D, that is, left-right, up-down and, critically, along the line of flight. It’s as if the moving atmosphere has been removed and doesn’t exist. It allows us to send highly-stable laser signals through the atmosphere while retaining the quality of the original signal.”

The outcome is the most accurate method in the world to compare the flow of time between two individual locations with the help of a laser system transmitted through the atmosphere.

Dr Sascha Schediwy, a senior researcher at ICRAR-UWA, said that the study has fascinating applications.

“If you have one of these optical terminals on the ground and another on a satellite in space, then you can start to explore fundamental physics. Everything from testing Einstein’s theory of general relativity more precisely than ever before, to discovering if fundamental physical constants change over time.”

The accurate measurements of the technology could also find practical applications in earth science and geophysics.

For instance, this technology could improve satellite-based studies of how the water table changes over time, or to look for ore deposits underground,” added Dr Schediwy.

There are additional prospective advantages for optical communications, which is an emerging field that involves using light to transfer information. Optical communications can ensure secure transmission of data between satellites and Earth, with considerably higher data rates compared to existing radio communications.

“Our technology could help us increase the data rate from satellites to ground by orders of magnitude. The next generation of big data-gathering satellites would be able to get critical information to the ground faster” she said.

The phase stabilization technology using which this record-setting link was established was originally created to synchronize incoming signals for the Square Kilometre Array telescopes. The multi-billion-dollar telescopes are planned to be set up in South Africa and Western Australia.

Thanks to AZO Optics for this report.

Science News carries an interesting report on mankind’s development of a thumb that could oppose the fingers, giving our ancestors the ability to grasp tools, and make more sophisticated tools.

Bruce Bower, writing on Friday the 28th says that thumb dexterity similar to that of people today already existed around 2 million years ago, possibly in some of the earliest members of our own genus Homo, a new study indicates. The finding is the oldest evidence to date of an evolutionary transition to hands with powerful grips comparable to those of human toolmakers, who didn’t appear for roughly another 1.7 million years.

Thumbs that enabled a forceful grip and improved the ability to manipulate objects gave ancient Homo or a closely related hominid line an evolutionary advantage over hominid contemporaries, says a team led by Fotios Alexandros Karakostis and Katerina Harvati. Now-extinct Australopithecus made and used stone tools but lacked humanlike thumb dexterity, thus limiting its toolmaking capacity, the paleoanthropologists, from Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen in Germany, found.

The researchers digitally simulated how a key muscle influenced thumb movement in 12 previously found fossil hominids, five 19th century humans and five chimpanzees. Surprisingly, Harvati says, a pair of roughly 2-million-year-old thumb fossils from South Africa display agility and power on a par with modern human thumbs.

Harvati’s team went beyond past efforts that focused only on the size and shape of ancient hominids’ hand bones. Using data from humans and chimpanzees on how hand muscles and bones interact while moving, the researchers constructed a digital, 3-D model to re-create how a key thumb muscle — musculus opponens pollicis — attached to a bone at the base of the thumb and operated to bend the digit’s joint toward the palm and fingers.

These new models of how ancient thumbs worked underscore the slowness of hominid hand evolution, says paleoanthropologist Matthew Tocheri of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Canada. Australopithecus made and used stone tools as early as around 3.3 million years ago.  “But we don’t see major changes to the thumb until around 2 million years ago, soon after which stone artefacts become far more common across the African landscape,” he says.

Karakostis and Harvati’s 3-D models of ancient thumb dexterity represent a promising advance, says paleoanthropologist Carol Ward of the University of Missouri in Columbia. But further work needs to examine how other thumb muscles interacted with musculus opponens pollicis to influence how that digit worked in different hominid species, she adds.

In a related finding, Ward and her colleagues — including Tocheri — reported in 2014 that a roughly 1.42-million-year-old hominid finger fossil from East Africa pointed to an early emergence of humanlike manipulation skills.

Well it seems to me that these early hominids were preparing their hands to be able to play games on their cell-phones two million years later, and Africa was ahead of the pack! What do you know?

And two new COVID vaccines were reported on at the end of this past week. One is called Novavax, and the other, from Janssen, and Johnson and Johnson, is so far unnamed. The results of their phase three trials have not been reviewed or published yet, but advance notice points to their being effective in creating immunity against our South African variant. Even if their efficacy is not 100%, they nevertheless prevent those who do get COVID, in spite of the vaccine, from getting serious disease, needing hospitalization, or resulting in death. I don’t know about you, but I won’t mind getting COVID-19 if I know it’s not going to be severe enough to kill me. I’ll happily stand in the queue for one of these vaccines!

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

HAMNET Report 24th January 2021

Since Tuesday the 19th, GDACS has been watching Tropical Cyclone Eloise-21, as it has made its Indian Ocean way slowly towards the Northern tip of Madagascar. At that stage maximum wind-speeds of 130Km/h were being seen, and about 700000 people in miscellaneous French Islands, Madagascar and Mozambique were in its path. The projection was for it to cross the coast of Mozambique on Friday night, and the Zimbabwe border on Saturday by 20h00 local time. The port city of Beira was predicted to be directly in its path, and authorities started shutting down port activities on Friday morning. By Thursday, wind speeds of 167km/h were being measured and the alert level had been raised to Red.

Later in the week, the path of the storm was extended to enter Botswana by Monday the 25th, the severity of the storm tending to weaken as it crossed further and further inland. By Friday, predictions also suggested that the Northern parts of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North-West Province would receive heavy downpours and flooding, and that far Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal, and Eswatini would also be hit.

Thobeka Ngema, writing for IOL, noted that the KZN Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs had placed disaster management teams on alert as tropical storm Eloise approached southern Africa. Warnings about heavy downpours were issued, that could result in flooding in parts of KZN, particularly in the northern areas.

Disaster management teams were also placed in uMkhanyakude district to respond to all incidents related to the storm if necessary.

According to KZN Cogta, the disaster management teams were monitoring areas in uMkhanyakude district that are prone to weather-related incidents so they can assist communities if need be.

Sipho Hlomuka, KZN’s Cogta MEC, urged communities in northern parts of the province to be vigilant and to take all necessary precautions.

Storm Report SA reported that tropical storm Eloise had downgraded to a moderate tropical storm as she moved through the Mozambique Channel but was expected to strengthen drastically over the 48 hours before making landfall over Mozambique on Saturday as an intense tropical cyclone.

“Her current path has changed slightly to the north. She is now expected to make landfall just south of Beira, Mozambique. She will weaken into an overland depression and continue to track south-west into the southern parts of Zimbabwe early Sunday morning and eventually the northern parts of Limpopo around Musina on Sunday afternoon,” Storm Report SA said.

Storm Report SA called on Mozambique to take note that Eloise was a dangerous cyclone that could cause havoc in the areas of landfall on Saturday. There would be a dangerous storm surge, heavy rainfall and wind gusts of up to 210km/h.

The HAMNET Divisions in the North of our country are monitoring the situation and preparing to be activated if needed.

The ARRL News says that HamSCI has issued a call for abstracts for its virtual workshop on March 19th and 20th, hosted by the University of Scranton and sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

“The primary objective of the HamSCI workshop is to bring together the amateur radio community and professional scientists,” said HamSCI founder Nathaniel Frissell, W2NAF. The theme is mid-latitude ionospheric physics, “which is especially important to us because the vast majority of hams live in the mid-latitude regions,” Frissell said.

Invited tutorial speakers will be Mike Ruohoniemi of the Virginia Tech SuperDARN initiative and Joe Dzekevich, K1YOW. Elizabeth Bruton, of the Science Museum in London, will be the keynote speaker.

The March conference will also serve as a team meeting for the Personal Space Weather Station project. Frissell said he will coordinate with respective teams for their abstracts.

The HamSCI workshop welcomes abstracts related to development of the Personal Weather Station, ionospheric science, atmospheric science, radio science, space-weather, radio astronomy, and any science topic “that can be appropriately related to the amateur radio hobby.”

I’m fascinated by one aspect of a story concerning a rescue of stranded people with the aid of a drone, down under in Australia. The group of 4 adults and a six-month baby got stuck between two flooded rivers in an area with no cell-phone coverage. With no other means of calling for help, one of the parties hit on a very clever idea. He knew rightly that when you send an SMS on your phone, it will keep trying to send the message until it gets an acknowledgement from a receiving tower.

So, what did he do? He typed the call for help on to his phone, hit the send button, and then attached the phone to his drone. He then flew the drone up as high in the area as was possible, and kept it there for about 5-10 minutes, so that, if there was cell-phone reception, his phone would have time to send the message and receive an acknowledgement from the tower. Then he brought the drone down again, and looked at the phone, and noticed that the SMS had been marked as “sent”, meaning that, while up there, the message had been conveyed to whoever he was trying to contact!

And thus was news of their plight conveyed, and thus were they rescued from their entrapment! Now, isn’t that just so clever? Putting the confirmation indications on the message to good use, and knowing with certainty that your message has been received! I wonder how many of us would have dreamed up that plan!

As I pondered on last week, the Cape Town Cycle Tour, formerly known as the Argus, due to take place in mid-March has been cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic. The risks to participants, spectators, and officials is just too great, and the correct thing to do in such circumstances is to be pro-active, and prevent things from happening, rather than retro-active and try to sweep the statistics of extra cases, hospitalisations and deaths under the carpet, so to speak.

The three new strains of the coronavirus, one first identified in the UK, one coming out of Brazil, and the third here in South Africa are not more lethal, but are at least 50% more infectious, and a large number of new patients come from younger age-groups, something not seen in the first wave in April.

The good news this week is that numbers in all provinces seem to be coming down,  which is wonderful, because we have winter approaching in a few months’ time, and morbidity and mortality both increase during cold weather.

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

HAMNET Report 17th January 2021

Greg Mossop G0DUB has announced that the next virtual meeting for Emergency Communications Co-Ordinators in IARU region 1 will be held at 13h00 UTC on Saturday the 27th of February. Cisco Webex will be the portal used, and Greg envisions, on the agenda so far, a review of recent events, a discussion of the value of exercises as opposed to regular nets, and whether Region 1 should hold a public Webex conference if Friedrichshafen is again cancelled this year. There is another 6 weeks to this date, so plenty of time for additional items for discussion to be added.

The first event on HAMNET’s events calendar for 2021 in the Western Cape has been cancelled. The 99er Cycle Tour, a sponsored 100km race to raise funds for charity in and around Durbanville, due to take place on the 13th February, was reluctantly cancelled by the organizers the day after our President announced the continuation of level three lockdown regulations until the 15th of February. This is the correct decision to take, and your writer wonders whether the Cape Town Cycle Tour and the Two Oceans Marathon down here in the next few months will go the same way. To be completely safe, all these events should actually be cancelled proactively and not regretted after they have had super-spreader effects on the province. As things stand now, the Comrades Marathon has a slightly better chance of taking place, particularly if the roll-out of vaccines has proceeded well. We wait to see how the pandemic unfolds further. However, we do note that the US hams have decided to cancel the Dayton Hamvention in May, because of the likelihood that they will not have got themselves out of Covid-19 trouble by then.

On the weather front, parts of the Karoo as well as most of the northern provinces of South Africa have been receiving heavy downpours resulting in flash-flooding of rivers, and filling of pans, where drought has been the norm for years. HAMNET records its willingness to be put into service if communities are threatened by these floods, and Divisional Directors monitor the situation in their areas carefully.

In case you thought there was nothing to do during the lockdown and with poor propagation conditions in 2020, Southgate Amateur Radio News reports that an Icelandic amateur Billi Jonsson, TF5B, made 30,013 contacts with 156 DXCC entities during 2020, using the mode FT8. Using the MFSK protocol, most of his contacts were on 30m, 8729 in fact, with 40, 20 and 17m each providing about 5200 contacts. There were of course others, to make up the total of 30000. Europe supplied the most replies, followed by North America, Asia, Africa, South America and the Pacific Ocean countries, in that order. Well done Billi! It seems that he had a lot of time on his hands in 2020.

The Millenium Post reports from Kolkata in India that, in a bid to help people access information when phones and conventional broadcast systems fail during natural calamity, Ham radio operators have installed amateur radio satellite communications (using Qatar OSCAR-100 – the first geostationary amateur radio transponder) at Ganga Sagar Island.

“Through this system, we will be able to send live video, photos and data of the situation after the natural disaster anywhere and help can also be sought by making a voice call,” said Ambarish Nag Biswas, custodian and secretary of West Bengal Radio Club (WBRC), an organisation of ham radio enthusiasts in the state. He reiterated that people will be able to send to and receive signals from QO-100, installed in space 36,000 km from the earth, even when mobile phones, telephones and the internet stop working.

Saman Javed, writing in Unilad on Wednesday, says that a NASA spacecraft orbiting Jupiter has reportedly detected a mysterious radio signal from one of the planet’s moons.

The signal, which was detected by NASA’s Juno space probe, came from the moon Ganymede.  The emission, which lasted approximately five seconds, is a first-time detection from the moon.

A NASA ambassador, Patrick Wiggins from Utah, was quick to clarify that the signal was caused by electrons, not aliens.

‘It’s not E.T,’ Wiggins told local news outlet KTVX, which first reported the discovery. ‘It’s more of a natural function,’ he added.

According to the publication, the signal was most likely caused by electrons oscillating at a lower rate than at which they spin, amplifying radio waves. At the time of detection, Juno was flying by at a speedy 111,847mph.

This process was also behind similar signals coming from Jupiter as detected by Juno in 2017. Juno’s mission is to study how the planet Jupiter formed and how it evolved.

‘Juno observes Jupiter’s gravity and magnetic fields, atmospheric dynamics and composition, and evolution,’ NASA said.

At the time of the latest detection, Juno was travelling across the polar region of Jupiter, where magnetic field lines connect to Ganymede. The signal is known to scientists as a ‘decametric radio emission’.

Jupiter’s radio emissions were first discovered in 1955. Since then, scientists have been able to make more sense of how the signals work.

‘A member of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society once built an amateur radio telescope that could detect the electromagnetic radiation from Jupiter,’ Wiggins said.

In 2018, scientists revealed they had observed ‘extraordinary’ electromagnetic waves coming from Ganymede. The waves, also known as chorus waves, were spotted by NASA’s Galileo Probe spacecraft, which was tasked with the mission of observing Jupiter’s wave environment.

‘It’s a really surprising and puzzling observation showing that a moon with a magnetic field can create such a tremendous intensification in the power of waves,’ Yuri Shprits, the lead author of the study, told The Independent at the time.

Scientists believe that the waves are partly caused by Jupiter’s intense magnetic field, which is the strongest in the entire solar system.

‘Chorus waves have been detected in space around the Earth but they are nowhere near as strong as the waves at Jupiter,’ Richard Horne, another co-author said.

‘Even if a small portion of these waves escapes the immediate vicinity of Ganymede, they will be capable of accelerating particles to very high energies and ultimately producing very fast electrons inside Jupiter’s magnetic field,’ he added.

The Solar System, and the Galaxy, never stop springing surprises on us, and remain as enigmatic as ever.

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

HAMNET Report 10th January 2021

In a Hackaday article dated the 3rd of January, Dan Maloney refers to the new digital mode included in the new version of WSJT-X. Dan says that “it looks like there will be a new digital mode to explore soon. The change will come when version 2.4.0 of WSJT-X, the program that forms the heart of digital modes like WSPR and FT8, is released. The newcomer is called Q65, and it’s basically a follow on to the current QRA64 weak-signal mode. Q65 is optimized for weak, rapidly fading signals in the VHF bands and higher, so it’s likely to prove popular with Earth-Moon-Earth fans and those who like to do things like bounce their signals off of meteor trails. We’d think Q65 should enable airliner-bounce too. We’ll be keen to give it a try whenever it comes out.”

Writing in the same article, Dan also refers to our JetPack Man. Humourously, he notes that “it looks like we can all breathe a sigh of relief that our airline pilots, or at least a subset of them, aren’t seeing things. There has been a steady stream of reports from pilots flying in and out of Los Angeles lately of a person in a jetpack buzzing around. Well, someone finally captured video of the daredevil, and even though it’s shaky and unclear — as are seemingly all videos of cryptids — it sure seems to be a human-sized biped flying around in a standing position. The video description says this was shot by a flight instructor at 3,000 feet (914 meters) near Palos Verdes with Catalina Island in the background. That’s about 32 km from the mainland, so whatever this person is flying has amazing range. And, the pilot has incredible faith in the equipment — that’s a long way to fall in something with the same glide ratio as a brick.”

I chuckled at the thought of someone analysing a brick to see what its glide ratio would be! Thanks to Hackaday for both those inserts.

Southgate Amateur Radio News is reporting that a portable amateur radio station for the QO-100 geostationary satellite is active from the icebreaker FS Polarstern on its journey to the Antarctic

AMSAT-DL reports that a portable satellite station for the QO-100 geostationary satellite (Es’hail-2) was commissioned on the icebreaker FS “Polarstern” at 14:23 UTC on December 27, 2020, with an initial QSO between DP0POL/mm and DK3ZL. The very special experiment originated from an idea of Felix DL5XL and Charly DK3ZL. AMSAT-DL spontaneously supported this project by providing a complete 6 Watt transverter radio station, as well as a 75 cm dish on a tripod.

In agreement with the responsible board engineer of Polarstern, Jörg DJ0HO, who is responsible for the callsign DP0POL on Polarstern, the station could be set up in front of a container on the upper deck, depending on the weather situation. Theresa DC1TH and Felix DL5XL are thus able to make radio calls in their spare time during the several-week trip to Antarctica. After the premiere there was an impressive “pile-up” of up to 40 kHz on the narrow-band transponder on the following days.

NASA Science says that, more than halfway to the Red Planet, NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover isn’t just shuttling sophisticated science instruments and tubes to be filled with Earth-bound rock samples. It’s carrying symbols, mottos, and objects that range from practical to playful – everything from meteorite fragments to chips carrying the names of 10.9 million people.

The “extras” are part of a tradition that harks back to the early space age and is now called “festooning” in NASA lingo. A plaque aboard Pioneer 10 and 11 displays a man and a woman for distant space-farers who might find the spacecraft. The Golden Record aboard Voyager 1 and 2 serves a similar purpose. Metal from the wreckage of the Twin Towers on 9/11 was installed on the rovers Opportunity and Spirit, while Spirit also carried a memorial to the crew of Space Shuttle Columbia.

“These kinds of embellishments add artistic elements on missions that are otherwise solely dominated by science and technology, as well as lasting tributes to colleagues who have helped pave the way for humanity’s exploration of space,” said Jim Bell of Arizona State University, who has helped festoon almost all of NASA’s Mars rovers, including Perseverance.

(There is a 1909 penny aboard the Curiosity rover, which nods not just to the hundredth anniversary of the Lincoln penny, but also to how geologists often include a penny for scale when analysing images of rock features.)

There is a calibration “sundial” on Perseverance, a circular disk, not unlike a test pattern, which the rover’s cameras can use to set their colour measurements. It also has small line drawings of early life forms on Earth, including Cyanobacteria, a fern and a dinosaur, and outlines of a female and a male figure. Furthermore it has some inscriptions and a motto.

A second calibration target is for the scanning instruments on the end of the 3 metre long robotic arm. This item has a Martian meteorite included to help fine-tune some settings, and four samples of spacesuit materials to be observed for signs of aging or decay.

Then there’s a placard, with three silicon chips, stencilled with 10,932,295 people’s names, submitted during a NASA campaign long before launch, as well as the essays from the finalists in NASA’s “Name the Rover” contest. The same placard is adorned with a laser-etched graphic depicting Earth and Mars, joined by the star that gives light to both. The phrase “Explore as one”, written in Morse code in the Sun’s rays, connects the two.

Finally, to honour the healthcare workers of the world during the Covid pandemic, there is an emblem styled after the Staff of Aesculapius, the classical emblem of the medical profession, with an entwined snake, and with a globe of the earth at the top, symbolising the impact the pandemic has had, and paying tribute to the perseverance of healthcare workers around the world.

And, boy, do they deserve tributes being heaped upon them! This pandemic is not going to go away anytime soon, and, in spite of the naysayers, will only be brought to an end by vaccinating about 80% of the world’s population.

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

HAMNET Report 3rd January 2021

Greg Mossop, G0DUB, emergency comms coordinator for IARU Region 1 says in his New Year Message that 2020 has not been the year anyone had expected, or wanted.

“Despite the challenge of COVID-19 as a medical emergency rather than a communications one, groups around the region have provided assistance whenever they have been asked. We have also looked after our own members by getting on the air, and adapting to the restrictions by holding meetings virtually rather than face to face. Some countries have taken the time to develop new systems or try new things but worldwide we have always been ready to respond and this has continued right through the year from bush fires in Australia, typhoons in the Philippines and ending with the earthquake this week in Croatia. Disasters did not take time off for COVID.

“Thanks to you, your families, and the many thousands of volunteers across the region for your support of Emergency Communications this year. Your patience as we found new ways of working was appreciated!

“I hope you all have a happy and healthy 2021.”

Thank you Greg, and the same to you, from all the HAMNET members in South Africa.

On Monday the 28th December, the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS) started reporting an orange alert for Tropical Cyclone CHALANE-20, active in the Mozambique Channel, with wind-speeds up to 120 km/h and threatening half a million people in Mozambique, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Botswana, if it veered inland due west, as expected.

It was expected to cross the coast of Mozambique at midday on Wednesday, reach Zimbabwe by nightfall, and potentially enter Botswana by Thursday morning. Of course, as it crossed land, its strength waned, and it was downgraded to a tropical depression in Zimbabwe, where it nevertheless brought rains and thunderstorms to central Zimbabwe.

On Tuesday, at 14h19 our time, central Croatia was struck by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake, exposing 122000 people to threat. The epicenter was 10km under the earth’s surface and within a few kilometres of the town of Petrinja, about 50km from the capital Zagreb. A total of 2.8 million people live within 100km of the epicenter. A 12 year old girl was reported to have been killed instantly, and people were still unaccounted for. The weather at the time was very bad, with strong winds, rain and snow.

Surrounding countries felt the shock, or experienced their own earthquakes, of lesser intensity, and at slightly differing times. I haven’t heard of major loss of life in surrounding areas.

Zeljko Herman 9A5EX of RMZO in Croatia reported that radio amateurs had created an organized network and were not engaged in the field. On the ground, state forces with their own communication systems were fulfilling their roles. There was therefore no need for additional radio communications, and RMZO stood by in reserve. Civil protection, firefighters, and the police were engaged.

Medical care and the search of the ruins by the USAR teams and the care of the homeless population were priorities.

HF frequencies were not being used, or reserved for EmComms.

Southgate Amateur Radio News says that Hideo JH3XCU/1 has reported the latest total for the number of radio amateurs in Japan.

On December 26, 2020, Japan (population 126m) had 389,343 licensed amateur radio stations, a fall of 12,837 during the year. On December 28, 2019, there had been 402,180 amateur stations which in turn had been a fall of some 15,000 from a year earlier.

Over 90% of all Japanese amateurs have the popular Class 4 operator license. Introduced in the 1950’s it was the world’s first HF license that didn’t require a Morse code test.

A Class 4 licence permits the following:
• 1 watt EIRP on 135 and 472 kHz
• 10 watts output on 1.9, 3.5, 7, 21, 24, 28 MHz bands
• 20 watts output on 50, 144 and 430 MHz bands
• Varying power levels between 10 watts and 0.1 watts on ALL amateur bands between 1,240 GHz and 250 GHz.

It seems to me their class 4 licence is similar to South Africa’s ZU licence. So only 10% of Japan’s amateurs have an unrestricted licence, which is remarkable considering Japan’s mighty high-power transceiver industry.

Earlier in 2020, I mentioned the commercial pilots who had spotted a man flying a jetpack up at about 3000 feet, as they came in to land at Los Angeles airport.
Well, he’s at it again, but this time he was video-filmed by a flying instructor out with a pupil.

OCN reports that the flight instructor was flying near Palos Verdes, California, on an instructional flight when he spotted the man flying in the opposite direction. The two pilots had no interactions or radio communications; however, the pilot was able to get a video of the encounter and shared it on the Sling Pilot Academy Instagram and YouTube channel. The pilot also reported the sighting to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“The video appears to show a jet pack, but it could also be a drone or some other object. If it is a ‘guy in a jet pack’ then it remains to be seen whether it is a legal test flight (jet packs are real – there is a manufacturer near Los Angeles) or possibly related to the jet pack sightings near LAX recently that caused disruptions to air traffic,” Sling Pilot Academy wrote in its post.

The incident is currently under investigation, but there’s not much information to go on. The previous incidents are under investigation, and the FBI got involved in August. This is the first video to be captured of the elusive “jetpack man.”

I’m sure you have all noticed the news coming from South Africa’s main centre trauma hospitals relating to New Year’s Eve and the 1st of January. Baragwanath trauma ward was empty on 31st December and 1st January, a first in the hospital’s history. Cape Town’s two main hospitals had a total of about 12 patients admitted via the emergency wards in the same time, while Karl Bremer trauma centre was empty.

I wonder what part of the relationship between irresponsible alcohol consumption, and reckless driving at night while under the influence people don’t understand…

This is Dave Reece reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 27th December 2020

In a news letter sent out by SETI@home this week, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence is being bolstered by a 20 billion channel SERENDIP SETI spectrometer for use at the 500 metre diameter FAST telescope in China. So, while the loss of Arecibo is still huge, it appears SETI was already working on the receiving potential of FAST, to assist in tracking intelligent signals.

It so happens that, this past April, after processing 20 years of Arecibo data, they put the volunteer component of SETI@home into hibernation. They’re now working on the final stage of data analysis: developing algorithms and software to reject radio interference and to identify and rank potential radio signals from extra-terrestrial civilizations.

Together with colleagues at Harvard, Caltech, and the University of California San Diego, they are also developing a new type of SETI observatory, called PANOSETI, that searches the whole sky simultaneously for visible and infrared pulses of light, perhaps coming from an extra-terrestrial civilization or from new astrophysical phenomena. They have built a prototype at Lick Observatory and are developing plans to build two domes, each one equipped with 45 telescopes pointing in different directions. So the search continues, unhindered by the loss of Arecibo.

On the subject of flares emitted by host stars that might affect planets in the goldilocks’ zone, EurasiaReview says that, although violent and unpredictable, stellar flares emitted by a planet’s host star do not necessarily prevent life from forming, according to a new North-western University study.

Emitted by stars, stellar flares are sudden flashes of magnetic imagery. On Earth, the sun’s flares sometimes damage satellites and disrupt radio communications. Elsewhere in the universe, robust stellar flares also have the ability to deplete and destroy atmospheric gases, such as ozone. Without the ozone, harmful levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation can penetrate a planet’s atmosphere, thereby diminishing its chances of harbouring surface life.

By combining 3D atmospheric chemistry and climate modelling with observed flare data from distant stars, a North-western-led team discovered that stellar flares could play an important role in the long-term evolution of a planet’s atmosphere and habitability.

“We compared the atmospheric chemistry of planets experiencing frequent flares with planets experiencing no flares. The long-term atmospheric chemistry is very different,” said North-western’s Howard Chen, the study’s first author. “Continuous flares actually drive a planet’s atmospheric composition into a new chemical equilibrium.”

“We’ve found that stellar flares might not preclude the existence of life,” added Daniel Horton, the study’s senior author. “In some cases, flaring doesn’t erode all of the atmospheric ozone. Surface life might still have a fighting chance.”

The study will be published on Dec. 21 in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Now EuroNews is reporting on a giant iceberg, the size of a small country that broke away from the Antarctic in 2017.  Measuring 5,800 square kilometres, twice the size of Luxembourg, it was one of the largest icebergs ever recorded.

This vast mass of frozen water has been slowly drifting through the ocean since it made a break from the Larson C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula three years ago. Tracked by satellites the berg, shaped like a hand with an outstretched index finger, began moving north in 2018.

That was until last year when the iceberg, labelled as A68, was quickly propelled into the Southern Atlantic by strong currents in the ocean.

During its travels, it has shrunk and broken in two, but its unpredictable nature is causing concern for conservationists. It is still so large that photographs captured by the UK Royal Air Force earlier this month couldn’t fit it into a single shot.

As the iceberg closed in on the wildlife haven of South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean earlier this year, experts grew increasingly worried it could cause an environmental disaster.

“The iceberg is going to cause devastation to the sea floor by scouring the seabed communities of sponges, brittle stars, worms and sea-urchins, so decreasing biodiversity,” explains Professor Geraint Tarling, an ecologist at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

“These communities help store large amounts of carbon in their body tissue and surrounding sediment. Destruction by the iceberg will release this stored carbon back into the water and, potentially, the atmosphere, which would be a further negative impact.”

South Georgia is one of the world’s most important ecosystems. The remote island is home to millions of macaroni, gentoo and king penguins as well as seals, albatross and other rare wildlife. Of the 30 species of birds that breed there, 11 are considered to be threatened or near threatened by the IUCN.

With no permanent human inhabitants, (except the occasional DXpedition), the island has levels of biodiversity comparable to the Galapagos Islands. To preserve this valuable ecosystem, the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands created one of the world’s largest Marine Protected Areas in the region in 2012.

“When you’re talking about penguins and seals during the period that’s really crucial to them – during pup- and chick-rearing – the actual distance they have to travel to find food (fish and krill) really matters. If they have to do a big detour, it means they’re not going to get back to their young in time to prevent them starving to death in the interim,” said Professor Tarling.

There was no Christmas Eve transmission from SAQ, the Alexanderson Alternator transmitting station in Sweden. The Grimeton World Heritage Foundation and Alexander GVV Friends Association cited “prevailing circumstances in our society” for the event cancellation.

“We find it sad to have to make this decision, but see it as a necessary measure to protect everyone involved,” the announcement continued. Past SAQ transmission events are chronicled on YouTube. “We truly regret this and hope for your understanding of the situation and continued support for the business. We hope that ‘our old lady’ can soon be heard on the air again,” the announcement concluded.

The vintage Alexanderson Alternator provided an electromechanical means of transmitting message traffic. It dates back to the early 1920s.

This Sunday, it is my pleasant duty to wish all our listeners and readers a very happy 2021, with good health and prosperity in large measure. We are still in the thick of the worldwide medical disaster situation, and owe it to our families and friends to remain cautious, considerate and protective, to await the arrival of sufficient vaccines to start generating herd immunity against the coronavirus, which will signal the end of the pandemic.

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

HAMNET Report 20th December 2020

Since midweek, the islands of Fiji have been experiencing the battering force of Tropical Cyclone YASA, a typhoon with wind speeds up to 259 km/h threatening 155000 people. Starting North-west of the island group, the cyclone has moved to the South-east, and crossed the bigger islands on Wednesday. A national 14 hour curfew was ordered on Thursday and a national state of natural disaster was also declared by Fiji’s Prime Minister. We watch with concern.

Forbes website reports that technology will be built in to your smart phone in the near future to provide you with a Spectrometer. If you point it at an object and take HAMNET REPORT 20TH DECEMBER 2020

a reading, you will be able to assess what the object is made of at a molecular level.

The first use will be skincare, the company says. But eventually the sensor will be able to scan the food on your plate, know what you’re eating along with its caloric value and nutrient content, and feed that information to your health and diet apps. Or tell you which plastics are recyclable, whether your food is fresh and safe, and more.

Smartphones can already sense motion, radio communications on multiple frequencies, light, sound, and distance. Including a spectrometer would add yet another sense to our most portable of personal computers.

Trinamix is a five-year old start-up founded by chemical giant BASF SE. It builds spectrometers: sensors which send out infrared light that is reflected off objects, returned to the sensor, and analysed. A spectrometer essentially splits light into its spectral components — like a rainbow, at least in the visible spectrum. Because each element has a different spectral signature, a spectrometer can identify what kind of matter it is looking at. Trinamix’ new innovation is to shrink the emitting and sensing technology to fit in a smartphone, and it’s working with Qualcomm to make that a reality.

Smartphones equipped with Trinamix technology will measure the lipids in your face to see if you have dry skin or are well moisturized, and then recommend a skincare product. Fundamentally, however, the technology will work on any element.

Analysis of foodstuffs will be very important and convenient. Other applications include sorting plastics or other materials for recycling, measuring the caffeine content of coffee (or any other drink), and checking for harmful substances in children’s toys. And, of course, when the techno-curious get their hands on the technology, the sky’s the limit.

The technology is not shipping today, however, and will require work from integrators and smartphone manufacturers to come to market. Given the fact that Trinamix has the support of its massive corporate parent and the co-operation of Qualcomm — a major player in mobile technology — there’s a good chance it could happen in the next few years.

Of course, it’s likely that not everyone cares about identifying the chemical or molecular composition of every object near them. However, it’s just as likely that future app developers will be able to incorporate the technology into environmental apps, health apps, home inspection apps, nature apps, and a thousand other applications we can only imagine right now.

Thanks to Forbes for this look into the near future.

Now, it seems that mankind has actually done something useful to our local space environment. There’s a human-made space barrier to wonder about, first observed by NASA in 2017. The mysterious zone of anthropogenic space weather is caused by specific kinds of radio waves that we’ve been blasting into the atmosphere for decades, but experts say the expanding band actually helps protect humankind from dangerous space radiation.

ScienceAlert  reports that NASA first observed this belt in 2012. The agency sends probes to explore different parts of our solar system, including the Van Allen Belts: a huge, torus-shaped area of radiation that surrounds Earth. The donut shape follows the equator, leaving the North and South Poles free.

The Van Allen Belts are related to and affected by the magnetosphere induced by the nonstop bombardment of the sun’s radiation. They affect benign-seeming magnetic effects like the Northern Lights, as well as more destructive ones like magnetic storms.

People planning spaceflight through areas affected by the Van Allen Belts, for example, must develop radiation shielding to protect crew as well as equipment—and most spacecraft launch from as near to the equator as possible, right in the Van Allen zone.

So, what’s our new protective barrier? The same probes that launched in 2012 to help us understand the Belts better in the first place detected this phenomenon, and in 2017, the probes gave us the first evidence of the radio-wave barrier emanating from Earth. ScienceAlert explains:

“A certain type of transmission, called very low frequency (VLF) radio communication, has become far more common now than in the 60s, and the team at NASA confirmed that these can influence how and where certain particles in space move about.”

Why is this? Well, the very low frequency (VLF) waves are exactly right to cancel out and repel the radiative advances of the Van Allen Belts as a matter of total coincidence. In fact, NASA initially considered this a true coincidence, saying that a radio wave area happened to match exactly with the edge of the Van Allen Belts. But in 2017, the agency published findings revealing that one has caused the other after all.

Typically, services like the military use very low frequencies. These were the first frequencies to be discovered and used for broadcasting, but successive discoveries pushed private and recreational users further up the spectrum. At the very lowest point is the simplest broadcast, things like Morse code, where only binary values need to be received. After that, VLF used by military equipment, for example, occupies a chunk of wavelengths.

Isn’t it interesting that VLF blankets the Earth without interfering with literally any other radio signal, for example, or the many other kinds of waves that flow around us all the time, but makes it into space far enough to push away harmful radiation?

Thanks to Popular Mechanics for this summary of the report.

It remains only for me to wish all our HAMNET members and other readers and listeners a very happy Festive Season, celebrating according to your faith. Please be Covid-careful, and considerate of your fellow South African, related to you or not. We need to look after each other, and remember that our actions can be responsible for consequences to others.

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