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.