HAMNET Report 4 March 2018

Papua New Guinea has been in the news all week. On Sunday the 25th, at 17h44 UTC, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck in the Southern highlands province, endangering a population of 314000 people. By the end of the week, another 82 aftershocks between magnitude 4.5 and 6 had been recorded, an astonishing number.

The powerful earthquake this week killed 31 people, injured dozens and brought work to a halt at four oil and gas fields in a remote Papua New Guinea region, the local governor said Wednesday.

His comments were the first confirmation of deaths from a high-ranking official after the magnitude 7.5 quake severed communications and blocked roads in the central region, hindering assessment of the scale of the destruction.

Southern Highlands Governor William Powi told The Associated Press that communication remains difficult and the death toll may rise. “We are looking at massive, catastrophic havoc and destruction,” Powi said.

“There are people who are traumatized, people in terrible devastation who have never felt this kind of destruction before,” Powi said. “It has really brought a lot of fear into people’s lives.”

Powi said three oil fields and a liquefied natural gas plant run by ExxonMobil Papua New Guinea have halted operations for now as they assess the damage to their operations.

The quake also disrupted work at a large gold mine and at coffee plantations in the region.

Powi said many roads remain cut off by landslides and that supplies will need to be airlifted. Many people live subsistence lives in the area, Powi said.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill announced an immediate State of Emergency had been Declared for Highlands Earthquake Disaster areas in Hela, Southern Highlands, Western and Enga Provinces.

“This is an unprecedented disaster in the Highlands Region and the appropriate response is underway by the National Government,” the Prime Minister said.

“A State of Emergency has been declared to expedite the restoration of essential public services including healthcare services, schools, road access, airports, power and communications facilities.

“The Emergency Disaster Restoration Team will be supported by Department of Works and Implementation, and all other relevant Government agencies,” O’Neill said.

A spokesman from the country’s National Disaster Centre said a preliminary damage assessment from the quake, which struck the mountainous Southern Highlands some 560km northwest of the capital, Port Moresby, was still incomplete.

Thank you to SBS news for that report.

Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, HAMNET Provincial Director for KZN, reports that Hamnet KZN will be providing 10 operators to assist at the Trade Brands Tour Natal Rally taking place next week Friday 9th and Saturday 10th March on the Natal North coast with around 150Km of  special stages (11 stages in total). The Tour Natal Rally has been around since 1959. Traditionally the rally stages for this event have all been on the South coast, so this will be a welcome change for the participants.  Keith Lowes ZS5WFD will be positioned at rally control based at the Ballito Lifestyle Centre.  Friday night will see a special stage along the beach front of Ballito which should draw a good spectator crowd. Saturday sees stages run in Kwa Dukuza (Stanger), Compensation, Doringkop, and Blythedale.

Dave ZS5HN will again operate as “Ops Control” to assist with relaying messages with the challenging hilly terrain in the sugarcane fields in the area.  The Highway Amateur Radio Club 145.7625 repeater gives good coverage into the Rally Control Centre at Ballito.  Communications within the stages will primarily be on 145.550 simplex.

Operators will be positioned at the start and end point of rally special stages to record vehicles entering and leaving stages as well as passing times back to rally control for scoring purposes as a back up to the electronic rally clock systems. Medical Response vehicles will be positioned at the start of stages in case of any reported incidents.

Glen ZS5GD will be in the Chief Marshal vehicle with Barry Neal, and Duncan ZS5DGR will be with the Route Director Jimmy Dewar.

Good luck to you, Keith, and your troops. We hope you have a successful rally.

With the kind of luck that radio amateurs and HAMNET members seldom have, amateur astronomer Victor Buso had a lucky break on September 20, 2016, while he was testing a new camera mounted to his 16-inch telescope in Argentina.
Once the sky was dark, Buso pointed his telescope at NGC 613 — a spiral galaxy located some 70 million light-years away in the constellation Sculptor — to take a series of short-exposure photographs. To ensure his new camera was functioning properly, Buso examined the images right away. This was when he noticed that a previously invisible point of light had appeared on the outskirts of NGC 613, and the point was quickly growing brighter in each successive image.

In no time at all, astronomer Melina Bersten and her colleagues at the Instituto de Astrofísica de La Plata learned of Buso’s fortunate photo shoot. They immediately realized that Buso had caught an extremely rare event — the initial burst of light from a massive supernova explosion. According to Bersten, the chances of making such a discovery are between one in ten million and one in a hundred million.

“Professional astronomers have long been searching for such an event,” said UC-Berkeley astronomer Alex Filippenko, whose follow-up observations were critical to analyzing the explosion, in a press release. “Observations of stars in the first moments they begin exploding provide information that cannot be directly obtained in any other way. It’s like winning the cosmic lottery,” he added.

Once Bersten realized that Buso had accidentally witnessed the first optical light from a normal supernova explosion, she contacted an international group of astronomers to plan and carry out additional follow-up observations over the next two months.

Based on all the available data, the researchers believe that Buso captured the first optical images of a supernova undergoing “shock breakout,” which occurs when a supersonic pressure wave from the star’s rebounding core slams into the gas at the star’s surface. This generates a tremendous amount of heat at the star’s surface, which causes a burst of light that rapidly brightens.

Thank you to Astronomy Newsletter for the story of this lucky break and valuable photographic evidence.

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