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.

HAMNET Report 13th December 2020

The Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System has reported that a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck the North-Eastern tip of Taiwan at 13h00 UTC on Thursday the 10th, exposing 10 million people within 100km of the epicenter to risk. Fortunately that epicenter was 74km deep, and so far, no major news of structural damage is seeping out, so hopefully loss of life was also kept to a minimum.

The ARRL has announced the publication of the third edition of Storm Spotting and Amateur Radio. Storm spotting gives radio amateurs another way to offer a public service by using their skills as communicators. In an average year, the US experiences more than 10,000 severe thunderstorms, 5,000 floods, and more than 1,000 tornadoes. During these weather events, ham radio volunteers provide real-time information to partners such as emergency managers and National Weather Service forecasters.

New in this 3rd edition are lessons learned and response reports from the 2017 hurricane season, among other things. Co-authors are University of Mississippi Professor of Emergency Management Michael Corey, KI1U, and former Embry Riddle Aeronautical University meteorology professor Victor Morris, AH6WX, with Contributing Editor Rob Macedo, KD1CY.

The ARRL also reports that the world’s largest solar observatory, National Science Foundation (NSF) Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii, has released its first image of a sunspot, capturing the phenomenon in striking detail. The image, taken last January, is among the first solar images of the new Solar Cycle 25. The telescope’s 4-meter primary mirror will give the best views of the sun from Earth throughout Solar Cycle 25. The image was released along with the first of a series of Inouye-related articles featured in the Solar Physics journal. As radio amateurs know, sunspots and other solar activity can affect HF radio propagation, among other things, and they are where coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and solar flares originate. The Inouye telescope is in its final stages of construction.

“While the start of telescope operations has been slightly delayed due to the impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic, this image represents an early preview of the unprecedented capabilities that the facility will bring to bear on our understanding of the sun,” said David Boboltz, NSF Inouye Solar Telescope Program Director. Solar Cycle 25 is predicted to peak in mid-2025.

“With this solar cycle just beginning, we also enter the era of the Inouye Solar Telescope,” said Matt Mountain, President of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), the organization that manages the National Solar Observatory and the Inouye Solar Telescope. “We can now point the world’s most advanced solar telescope at the sun to capture and share incredibly detailed images and add to our scientific insights about the sun’s activity.”

Thanks to the ARRL letter of 10th December for both these extracts.

Anette Jacobs ZR6D sent me a report issued by Santjie White, she of the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre, describing Exercise Malperd, held last Saturday the 5th December. Santjie writes:

The ARCC and HAMNET worked together to organize an aeronautically themed training exercise on the East Rand today (Saturday). The exercise was a great success with many lessons identified and training scenarios tested.

The success of the exercise would not have been possible without the dedication and collaboration of all the Search and Rescue units and organizations that worked together. The Search and Rescue units and organizations consisted of state and private companies as well as volunteers from the various SAR institutions.

The ARCC thanks every single member involved in the events of the day, and their families for allowing them to join in the training over the weekend.

Santjie expressed her thanks and extreme gratitude to the members and organizations for attending and making available resources at their own costs, all for developing and maintaining a world class SAR service to our aviation community.

Thank you, Anette, for providing me with that news.

Carolyn Gramling, writing in Science News says that Atlantic hurricanes are taking longer to weaken after making landfall than they did 50 years ago, thanks to climate change. Over the past 50 years, increasingly warm ocean waters have juiced up the storms, giving them more staying power after they roar ashore, scientists report in Nature of November 12th. That could potentially extend storms’ destructive power farther inland, the researchers say.

As ocean waters warm, tropical cyclones — called hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean — are likely to gain in intensity, studies show. They can also hold more moisture, leading to seemingly unremitting rainfall. And they may move more slowly, allowing more time to dump that rain on coastal communities. All of this increases the potential hazard on land.

Once a storm hits land, its energy begins to dissipate. But that relief is coming later than it once did, report physicists Lin Li and Pinaki Chakraborty, both of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan.

Li and Chakraborty analysed the intensity of historical Atlantic hurricanes over the first 24 hours after landfall. In 1967, a typical storm’s intensity decayed by 76 percent within the first day after landfall. But by 2018, storms were only 52 percent less intense after 24 hours. That trend, the researchers say, aligns with increasing sea-surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and the western Caribbean Sea.

That’s because the intense winds of cyclones feed on moisture and heat picked up from the warm waters, and warmer air can also hold more moisture. So as the oceans heat up, they not only add more moisture, making hurricanes rainier, but also add more heat — like a portable engine the storm uses to fuel its fury for just a bit longer.

In another article on the same website, Carolyn says that once Antarctic ice melting, as a result of the warmer waters, reaches a certain threshold, reversal of the trend will not be possible, and the melting cannot then be undone.

This will lead to a progressive rise in sea level of up to 50 metres in the next few centuries, if all the ice over Antarctica were to melt. The flat plain that is the Cape Peninsula would mostly disappear, and Table Mountain would become an island, disconnected from the rest of the Cape. Quite a thought, isn’t it?

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

HAMNET Report 6th December 2020

Folks, yet another Tropical Cyclone is on its way towards India and Sri Lanka. GDACS is reporting on Cyclone Burevi -20, not with extremely strong winds yet, but threatening the vulnerable East coast of India, and Sri Lanka just below it. The provinces of India along its Eastern coastline are still drying out from last week’s storm, which was directed in a more Northerly direction, and apparently spared Sri Lanka.

Here’s an insert from the website HACKADAY, written by Jenny List, but quoting Robert Bolton KJ7NZL, who has scathing things to say about amateur radio’s preoccupation with disaster communications. She writes:

”As many a radio amateur will tell you, ham radio is a hobby with as many facets as there are radio amateurs. It should be an exciting and dynamic place to be, but as those who venture forth into it sometimes sadly find out, it can be anything but. Communities whose interests lie in using $1,000 stations to chase DX (long-distance contacts) are often tightly knit, there is an advancing age profile, and a curious fascination of many amateurs with disaster communications. It’s something Robert V. Bolton, KJ7NZL has sounded off about in an open letter to the amateur radio community entitled “Ham Radio Needs To Embrace The Hacker Community Now More Than Ever“.

“In it he laments the fact that the influx, in particular of those for whom disaster preparedness is the reason for getting a licence, is to blame for amateur radio losing its spark, and he proposes that the hobby should respond by broadening its appeal in the direction of the hacker community. The emphasis should move from emergency communications, he says, and instead topics such as software defined radio and digital modes should be brought to the fore. Finally he talks about setting up hacker specific amateur radio discussion channels, to provide a space in which the talk is tailored to their community.

“Given their experience of the amateur radio community hackers are bound to agree with him. The hobby offers unrivalled opportunity for analogue, mixed-signal, digital, and software tinkering in the finest tradition of the path set by the early radio amateurs around a hundred years ago, yet it sometimes seems to have lost its way for people like hackers.”

A thought-provoking article for people like us, because we have a desire to be of assistance during emergencies, transmitting valuable information, instead of just tinkering, chewing the rag, or chasing DX. Clearly, the EmComm individual is different from the rank and file radio amateur in some ways, and the electronics hacker wishes to be amongst the experimenters in amateur radio, and not allied to the operator who views the message as more important than the equipment used to convey the message.

Well, the 53 year old Arecibo Radio Telescope certainly took it upon itself to self-destruct this week, as the suspended platform with all the receiver front-ends above the dish built into the ground, broke free from its remaining cables and crashed in to the dish. The twitter feeds have been full ever since of important scientists who had been using the dish and its receivers and transmitters for research, reminiscing about the observatory and its feats. There were several suggestions that an attempt should be made to build another radio telescope of such magnitude in the Western Hemisphere to replace it. I didn’t realize that the Chinese FAST facility can only operate for 12 hours a day, severely limiting the amount of research time available to the world. It also is unable to do radar, because the instrument platform suspended over its dish is too small for the radar apparatus needed, and it also has receivers up to 3 GHz only, unlike Arecibo, which had equipment functioning up to 10 GHz.

So my remarks about FAST in China being an acceptable substitute for Arecibo are not strictly true. It would seem that the gap left by Arecibo’s demise is greater than we imagined.

May I remind you that the strongest signal ever broadcast from Earth out towards the stars came from Arecibo? In 1974, the broadcast formed part of the ceremonies held to mark a major upgrade to the Arecibo Radio Telescope. The transmission consisted of a simple, pictorial message, aimed at our putative cosmic companions in the globular star cluster M13. This cluster is roughly 21,000 light-years from us, near the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, and contains approximately a third of a million stars.

The broadcast was particularly powerful because it used Arecibo’s megawatt transmitter attached to its 305 meter antenna. The latter concentrates the transmitter energy by beaming it into a very small patch of sky. The emission was equivalent to a 20 trillion watt omnidirectional broadcast, and would be detectable by a SETI experiment just about anywhere in the galaxy, assuming a receiving antenna similar in size to Arecibo’s.

The tweeted messages record the sadness with which the scientific community, who were already mourning the decision to decommission the radio telescope anyway, views its self-destruction. Let’s hope that future funding can be found to build a new one.

Pieter ZL1PDT, ex ZS1PDT, has sent me a link to a 15 minute YouTube video, extracted from the American TV channel called Ham Nation, in which Valerie Hotzveld, NV9L, visited Arecibo, and actually climbed down into the instrument platform at Arecibo to view the feed horns and receiver front ends, suspended above the dish. This can be found at https://youtu.be/IqGnnpwEwug. Please see this written report on the SARL website front page under HAMNET, to find the URL, if you didn’t catch it.

TX Factor is back with another episode, this one episode 27. There is a visit to the home of the editor of Practical Wireless Don Field G3XTT, who moved home a year ago. The TX Factor crew visited him and his station to find out how well he has settled in. Then there’s a discussion about setting up an OpenSpot Gateway for mobile digital use, and finally the General Manager of the RSGB, Steve Thomas M1ACB talks about the amazing media response to this year’s amateur radio revival during lockdown.

This is all available at www.txfactor.co.uk

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