Stationed in an empty field at Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter, South Carolina, Virginia Tech electrical engineering Professor Greg Earle and his team waited for the total solar eclipse of 2017. Rather than travelling toward the path of totality to see one of “nature’s most awe-inspiring sights,” Earle prepared to put his three-year-old hypothesis on radio propagation to the test.
With roughly two minutes to run diagnostics for the bulk of their project, Earle and his friends sat nestled between high-powered radars and transceivers. In the still of silence, they heard the sound of crickets turn on like clockwork, confused by their early bedtime call at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
Over a dozen colleagues were involved in the making of vertical radar equipment that extrapolated data before, during and following the period of artificial light induced by the total solar eclipse.
After studying the ionosphere in graduate school, which is a part of the sky that conducts atmospheric electricity above 50 kilometres, Earle used his specialized research to understand unquantified events such as auroras and later eclipses in terms of radio, GPS and radar operation.
The eclipse, according to Earle, writing in the CollegiateTimes, will give him an opportunity to collect astronomical research with at least three separate technologies that were nonexistent in the early 1900s.
Not only are GPS receivers global now, allowing researchers to mine an extraordinary amount of data per cubic mile, but Software Defined Radio is barely a decade old. This programming function gives a computer the capability to act like a radio receiver but at an even faster speed.
These tools, partnered with the knowledge of thousands of wave frequencies from competing HAM radio operators, is what Earle believes separates his work from serendipitous discovery.
When an eclipse happens the artificial night allows more radio energy to generate signal strength rather than being consumed by the neutral particles in the ionosphere.
With over 700,000 HAM radio operators in the United States, all operating in the same frequencies, being monitored by Virginia Tech’s research team, Earle designed rules for a radio contest that would test wave efficiency, with tasks like, “How quickly can you make contact with someone from all of the 50 states?”
Once the Reverse Beacon Network goes through these logs, it will then be made available for this scientific study.
If artificial night could be manipulated in the future, Earle says that this research could lead to more secure communication between government officials in top secret situations.
“Once we know the effects better, there may indeed be people, especially in the Department of Defence (DOD) community who look at that seriously as a way to change the communication channel either for ourselves or for anybody we are currently having a conflict with,” Earle said.
In order to comprehend the extensive science behind a solar eclipse, Earle relates the world to a paper map and the eclipse to the lens on a magnifying glass; however, the roughly circular region that is magnified will act at wavelengths that are invisible to the human eye. The goal of his project is to look at as many rays propagating through that intensified region and its signal by-products, as possible.
Although it is estimated that the research will not be released to the public for another year or two, Earle has received instantaneous feedback from SuperDARN radar equipment, courtesy of a Blacksburg company, which has seemingly confirmed their simulations suggesting low frequency propagations to give long propagation paths in the eclipsed region.
The team is currently working on a presentation of findings for a meeting with the American Geophysical Union this December.
Thank you to the CollegiateTimes for this extract.
The ARRL Letter for 14 September carries news of the other two geophysical events of the last week. Hurricane Irma sowed death and destruction over Central Florida last weekend, and resulted in significant river flooding over most of the Florida peninsula. Millions were left without power. Thirty Florida counties were under mandatory evacuation orders, and thousands took advantage of Red Cross shelters.
SKYWARN nets activated in the West Central Florida Section and elsewhere to gather severe weather information, and Florida’s Statewide Amateur Radio Network conducted a coordination and assistance net to help communicate between the county EOCs and the State EOC and to provide assistance to Amateur Radio operators in other ways, time permitting. The priority during the weekend was tactical shelter communication, EOC communication, and SKYWARN nets as Hurricane Irma approached. “Once Irma was downgraded to a Tropical Storm, our focus shifted to collecting post-storm reports and handling emergency and priority traffic only,” HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said.
As if Earth’s weather was not bad enough already, an X-class solar flare at around [18h00 our time] on Sunday, September 10, hobbled the HF bands. The widespread communication blackout lasted for nearly 3 hours and “could not have happened at a worse time,” Graves said. “But,” he added, “we cannot control Mother Nature, only work around her.” Earlier solar flares had also affected HF propagation.
Greg Mossop G0DUB announced on Friday that “Mexican Radio Amateurs are activating again to deal with Hurricane Max which is due to hit the area of Guererra in the next few hours. They will be using 7060 and 14120 kHz for this storm and are also watching Tropical Storm 15-E, also known as Norma, which will move to the North of their country over the next few days.” So please keep away from 7060kHz and 14120kHz these next few days, until the all-clear is given.
Finally, the British “TX Factor” episode 18 launched yesterday, and is available for you to view, on their website, www.txfactor.co.uk. This episode covers the recent YOTA activity week in London, at which South Africa was represented, and a look at moonbounce, using the 32 metre dish at Goonhilly Earth Station in Cornwall.
This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.