HAMNET Report 9 September 2018

Seeing that we are now at the start of Spring, I thought to present a bulletin that relates to time and its consequences. Let’s start with time on the Sun.

The Royal Observatory of Belgium’s Solar-Terrestrial Centre of Excellence (STCE) has asserted that the reverse-polarity sunspot group 2720 observed in late August belongs to the current solar cycle — cycle 24 — and does not represent the start of cycle 25 [as initially thought].

“Because of its reversed polarity, some websites claimed sunspot group 2720 was possibly one of the first groups of new Solar Cycle 25,” the Centre said. “This is simply not true, in view of its very low 8° latitude. The next Solar Cycle 25 sunspot group should have both reversed magnetic polarity and much higher heliographic latitude, typically 20° to 40° from the equator. Only two tiny, short-lived numbered sunspot groups are currently assigned to new Solar Cycle 25, sunspot group 2620 in December 2016 and 2694 in January 2018.”

STCE said that while both of those small sunspots have been assigned to cycle 25, some uncertainty exists as to just which sunspot cycle they actually belong to. STCE said some additional sunspot groups that belong to cycle 25 were so tiny and short-lived that they were not assigned a sunspot number. “During each solar cycle, about 3% of all active regions have reversed polarity but do not belong to the previous or next solar cycle,” the Centre said. “With 2,000 to 3,000 sunspot groups per solar cycle, this means that every solar cycle has a few dozen reverse-polarity sunspots that belong to the ongoing sunspot cycle despite their reverse polarity.”

After examining magnetograms of the sun’s surface, well-known Amateur Radio solar observer and propagation authority Carl Luetzelschwab, K9LA, agreed that AR2720 is reversed in polarity from other sunspots in the northern solar hemisphere. What confuses the issue, he said, is its low latitude, as a cycle 25 sunspot area should be at a much higher latitude.

The same weekend of sunspot group 2720, a radio blackout lasting about a day took place, affecting the HF amateur bands as well as GPS systems. Solar watcher Dr Tamitha Skov, in her YouTube report, called the G3-level geomagnetic storm “one of the top five storms of the solar cycle.”

Thanks to the ARRL Letter for that insert.

Now time on the air you can set your watch to.

VOANews.com reported on September the 2nd that President Donald Trump’s administration wants to shut down U.S. government radio stations that announce official time, a service in operation since World War II.

WWV and WWVB in the state of Colorado and WWVH on the island of Kauai in the mid-Pacific state of Hawaii, send out signals that allow millions of clocks and watches to be set either manually or automatically.

WWVB continuously broadcasts digital time codes, using very long electromagnetic waves at a frequency of 60 kilohertz, which are automatically received by timekeeping devices in North America, keeping them accurate to a fraction of a second.

“If you shut down these stations, you turn off all those clocks,” said Don Sullivan, who managed the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) stations between 1994 and 2005.

Some argue the terrestrial time signals have been rendered obsolete by the government’s Global Positioning System, whose satellites also transmit time signals, but users disagree, noting GPS devices must have an unobstructed view of a number of satellites in space to properly function.

“Sixty kilohertz permeates in a way GPS can’t,” Sullivan told VOA, explaining that WWVB’s very low frequency signal can be received inside buildings and it is an important backup to GPS in case adversaries attempt to interfere with the satellite radio-navigation system.

WWV and WWVH broadcast on a number of shortwave frequencies, meaning their signals can be received globally.

WWV, the oldest continuously operating radio station in the United States, first went on the air from Washington in 1919, conducting propagation experiments and playing music. In the early years, it also transmitted — via Morse code — news reports prepared by the Agriculture Department.

The station subsequently was moved to Maryland and then to Colorado in 1966. WWV has been a frequency standard since 1922 and has disseminated official U.S. time since 1944.

All of the NIST stations rely on extremely precise atomic clocks for the accuracy of their time signals.

One second is defined as the period of the transition between two energy levels of the ground state of the Cesium-133 atom, making Cesium oscillators the primary standard for time and frequency measurements.

WWV, at two minutes past every hour, also transmits a 440 hertz note (A above middle C on a piano), something it has done since 1936, allowing musicians to tune their pianos and other instruments.

All three stations retain a huge following worldwide, according to Sullivan.

Tom Kelly, an amateur radio operator in the state of Oregon, has launched a petition to try to save the stations. Kelly’s petition calls the stations “an instrumental part in the telecommunications field, ranging from broadcasting to scientific research and education,” noting their transmissions of marine storm warnings, GPS satellite health reports and specific information about solar activity and radio propagation conditions.

Britain, China, Germany, Japan and Russia also have very low frequency time transmissions, but their stations are too distant to automatically set clocks in the United States.

Thanks to the Voice of America for this report.

Then, time in Europe.

Southgate Amateur Radio News says that BBC News reports the EU Commission is proposing to end the practice of adjusting clocks by an hour in spring and autumn after a survey found most Europeans opposed it.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said millions “believe that in future, summer time should be year-round, and that’s what will happen”.

The Commission’s proposal requires support from the 28 national governments and MEPs to become law.

In the EU clocks switch between winter and summer under daylight saving time.

A European Parliament resolution says it is “crucial to maintain a unified EU time regime”.

However, the Commission has not yet drafted details of that proposed change.

And now it’s Time in South Africa to return you to the Amateur Radio Today Studio!

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