HAMNET Report 30th August 2020

The HAMNET regions in South Africa have been conducting a blackout exercise since yesterday (Saturday) 12h00, and will finish their exercise experiments at 12h00 today (Sunday). The exercise and the scenarios needing to be played out have been organized by representatives of membership in the Northern Cape and the Free State, and we are all grateful to them for their backroom work.

A few small groups in each region have organized themselves into cells, and are operating without any comfortable amenities, like electricity, phones and warm beds. Messages with tasks in them are being sent to each cell, the task has to be completed, and the results then radioed to another division’s station, to be returned to the organizers to check for accuracy. The exercise is not a contest, and there are no winners. The idea is for the groups to test their equipment and their capabilities, in difficult circumstances.

Well, the weather certainly has helped to contribute to the difficult circumstances. As I write this, snow is about to start falling on all high ground in the south-western portions of the country, and rain is falling steadily. So those that don’t catch their death of pneumonia will come back wiser, and wetter!

We look forward to the reports-back.

The Southern States of the US are similarly nursing their injuries as Hurricane Laura finally blew itself out a bit on Friday night and Saturday morning. Louisiana seemed to bear the brunt of the onslaught, with winds in the region of 240 km/h, but the storm directly threatened the United States, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Antigua and Barbuda, Guadeloupe, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Dominica.

At least 1.3 million people were in the path of the storm on the US mainland, and storm surges were expected to swamp low-lying territory on the coast.

From the ARRL News, we learned that The National Hurricane Centre (NHC)-predicted “unsurvivable storm surges” in the vicinity of 6 metres or greater, driving Gulf waters inland into waterways and lowlands. More than a half-million people in Louisiana and Texas were told to evacuate ahead of the storm, but not everyone did — or was able to leave. One death has been attributed to the storm. Widespread power outages were reported. By Thursday morning, the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) had ratcheted its alert level up to 5 — Catastrophic Response Mode — and remained in operation even after the hurricane hit.

“Once Laura has been downgraded to a Tropical Storm, we will focus on helping to gather any post-storm reports from the areas that have been hit,” HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said. “This includes the relaying of any emergency or priority traffic.”

At mid-week, ARRL South Texas Section Emergency Coordinator Jeffery Walter, KE5FGA, said, “We have begun nightly Zoom meetings with North Texas, South Texas, and ARRL Delta Division leadership. The areas directly in the path of the storm may call for mutual aid support.” He assured that volunteers would be vetted and provided with necessary information and a plan put in place, to define the deployment period.

At 12h00 UTC on Thursday, the NHC was reporting damaging winds and flooding rainfall overspreading inland areas in western and central Louisiana. “Life-threatening storm surge continues along much of the Louisiana coastline,” the report added. The storm was still packing 160 km/h winds. Laura was predicted to move across southwestern Louisiana on Thursday morning, and then continue northward across the state through the afternoon, with the storm’s centre forecast to move over Arkansas on Thursday night, the mid-Mississippi Valley on Friday, and the Mid-Atlantic States on Saturday.

Voice over Internet Protocol Weather Net (VoIP-WX) Manager Rob Macedo, KD1CY, was interviewed on The Weather Channel on Thursday morning.

In Louisiana, ARES teams were in standby status for local emergency managers or served agencies, such as the Red Cross, to request activation. Louisiana Section Emergency Coordinator (SEC) James Coleman, AI5B, said earlier this week that activations would happen on a parish-by-parish or on a regional basis as support is needed. The Louisiana ARES Emergency Net activated on Wednesday on 3.878 and 7.255 MHz. The Delta Division Emergency Net was on standby on Thursday. Ham Aid emergency communication kits from ARRL Headquarters have been pre-positioned in Louisiana for such situations since last year.

Now WSAR in the Western Cape are sad to report that a hiker died high on a mountain in greater Cape Town, found after an epic search in foul weather. The 58 year old man had set out for a gentle stroll on the lower slopes on the Helderberg Nature Reserve in Somerset West on Thursday.

Almost 24 hours later (Friday midday in fact), his body was found high in the mountains. He may have suffered a fatal fall, on a rocky crag high above the Winelands town.

Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) spokesperson Johann Marais ZS1JM, of ORRU and HAMNET, said the nature reserve manager called them for assistance around 17h00 on Thursday after the man’s wife had reported him overdue in returning.

“The man had set out to hike the Sugarbird Route and not returned by 16h00 as he had arranged with his wife. By then rangers had already patrolled the route. WSAR had over 17 operatives in the field on foot and where possible in 4×4’s searching into the small hours of the night.”

The search was coordinated from a Joint Operations Centre (JOC) established in a hi-tech “Incident Command Centre” vehicle provided by the Western Cape Government’s Department of Health. “The search was resumed early on Friday”, Johann continued.

After several hours search on Friday morning on the nature reserve’s network of mountain tracks and narrow paths, the search party found the lifeless man amidst swirling north-westerly winds, clouds and cold winter rain.

Johann Marais said that the man had been fatally injured when he fell someway off the path. The location is understood to be between Porcupine Ridge and the Saddle, or in the deep gorge directly below. Despite successfully locating the man, rescuers had still not been able to retrieve his body by Friday night, owing to poor weather.

WSAR and HAMNET offer their sincere condolences to his wife and family.

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

HAMNET Report 23rd August 2020

Jose Mendez EA9E, Emergency communications coordinator for Spain in IARU Region One has announced that they will be carrying out an exercise today the 23rd August, between 12h00 and 14h00 UTC. This will consist of a general call-in and a net control on 7.110 MHz, as well as a Winlink System practice, with two stations located on 7 and on 10 MHz, experimenting with person-to-person communication.

Please be mindful of signals coming out of the Spanish mainland during this time.

RFI is quoted this week as saying that Japan’s government has said it would send a second disaster relief team to Mauritius to help with the oil spill from a Japanese ship that ran aground off the Indian Ocean island last month. A team of seven people are to leave Japan on Wednesday to help with clean-up efforts and assessments for the environmental damage caused by the Wakashio oil spill, the foreign ministry said.

The team will include officials from Japan’s environment ministry and the National Institute for Environmental Studies. Japan’s foreign ministry described how the oil spill has caused critical environmental damage, which could have a “serious impact” on the country’s important tourism industry.

“Japan hopes that this assistance will contribute to the recovery of the environment of the Republic of Mauritius and the prevention of maritime pollutions,” said the foreign ministry.

France has also dispatched aircraft and technical advisors from neighbouring Réunion Island to help with the disaster.

The accident has affected one of the most ecologically sensitive areas of Mauritius, which has declared the spill an environmental emergency. The MV Wakashio bulk carrier split into two pieces last Saturday and there are concerns that the island could take years to recover from the disaster.

French overseas minister Sébastien Lecornu, speaking on FranceInfo radio, said there are concerns about what to do with the shipwreck. Lecornu said the French authorities are focused on an environmental approach that protects biodiversity and the coasts of neighbouring Reunion island, a French department in the Indian Ocean.

The Daily Mail’s MailOnLine reports that scientists are saying that Earth’s sun once had a twin, and evidence of its celestial sibling still exists in our solar system.

Scientists note that stars birth from clouds of dust and gas and typically form with binary companions.

The team suggests passing stars in the birth cluster may have removed the second sun through their gravitational influence – and it could be lurking anywhere in the Milky Way.

Data proposes our star’s doppelganger would be similar in mass and would explain the ‘Oort cloud,’ which is a collection of debris left over from the formation of the solar system that circles our sun at a distance.

Another sun could also give credence to the existence of Planet Nine, a theoretical body hiding in the outer reaches of the solar system.

Astronomers theorize Planet Nine is five to 15 times larger than Earth. But it would be hard to collect enough material so far from the Sun to form a super-Earth-sized planet.

Binary stars are better at drawing in and capturing debris, says Harvard science professor Avi Loeb, co-author of a new report published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

‘If the Oort cloud formed as observed, it would imply that the sun did in fact have a companion of similar mass that was lost before the sun left its birth cluster,’ reads the study.

‘Binary systems are far more efficient at capturing objects than are single stars,’ said Loeb, who says their model predicts more objects with a similar orbital orientation to Planet Nine.

According to co-author Amir Siraj, a Harvard undergraduate, objects in the Oort cloud may have impacted the development of life here on Earth, from bringing water to the planet to causing the dinosaurs to go extinct.

The double-sun theory isn’t as radical as it sounds. ‘Most Sun-like stars are born with binary companions,’ says Siraj. According to him, this solar doppelganger didn’t go nova, it simply moved on. ‘The Sun’s long-lost companion could now be anywhere in the Milky Way,’ he said.

The key to proving their theory lies with the Vera C Rubin Observatory in Chile. Next year, it begins a 10-year survey of the night sky that could confirm or rule out the existence of Planet Nine.

‘If the VRO verifies the existence of Planet Nine, and a captured origin, and also finds a population of similarly captured dwarf planets, then the binary model will be favoured over the lone stellar history that has been long-assumed,’ Siraj said.

Now our friends at Southgate Amateur Radio News have reported via the ARRL Letter on 20th August that a new open-source app called SignalID can identify about 20 signal modes in just 5 seconds of recording time, and more may be on the way. The app is open source and free.

Using it is simple. Once the frequency and bandwidth have been set, the user places the cell phone’s microphone near the receiver’s speaker, presses the large button, and waits for 5 seconds. The quieter the external environment is, the fewer errors.

“The algorithm is based on frequency, so incorrect tuning will result in an erroneous detection. The recording is limited to 5 seconds, for practical reasons. Mode recognition may require several attempts, the developer, Tortillum, said, and upgrades are already in the works. “The easiest way to try it is with RTTY or STANAG,” the developer added.

The very few comments so far from users suggest some further work may be needed, but they praised the concept. The developer invites additional comments.

The application, which includes a complete list, could prove a valuable tool in determining the types of emissions that may stray into amateur radio bands

On Southgate Amateur Radio News, the Times of India reports that amateur radio operators have once again been roped in to fight Covid-19. While previously they helped monitor home-quarantine violations, this time they’ve been tasked with assisting the government in facilitating contact tracing via real-time radio communication.

With the government dividing Bengaluru into 8 zones to handle cases, Bommanahalli appears to have become the focal point for the ham operators, who have set up ward-level control rooms in their homes to coordinate with the zonal team.

Eighty to 100 ham operators are presently helping booth-level volunteers and ward committees carry out door-to-door surveys, assist patients and trace contacts of those testing positive for the virus.

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

HAMNET Report 16th August 2020

Aljazeera has provided a concise report about the fuel spilling from a Japanese bulk carrier that ran aground on a reef in Mauritius two weeks ago, creating an ecological disaster, endangering corals, fish and other marine life around the Indian Ocean island, according to officials and environmentalists.

The MV Wakashio, owned by the Nagashiki Shipping Company, struck the reef on Mauritius’s southeast coast on July 25th.

Last Thursday, the government said fuel was leaking from a crack in the vessel’s hull, and Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency, pleading for international help.

Environmental group Greenpeace said the spill was likely to be one of the worst ecological crises Mauritius has ever seen.

“Thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg are at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’s economy, food security and health,” Greenpeace said in a statement.

France was sending specialist teams and equipment to help Mauritius deal with the spill, French President Emmanuel Macron said.

Nagashiki Shipping Company said it had tried to free the tanker, but the effort was hampered by persistent bad weather.

The tanker is grounded in what the environment ministry has described as a sensitive zone, with the leaking fuel endangering the diverse marine life that attracts tourists from around the world.

Mauritius, famous for its pristine beaches, is popular with tourists who last year contributed 63 billion Mauritius rupees ($1.6bn) to the economy.

And the Japanese company that owns the ship has apologised for the incident, and has also sent a team of oil-spill specialists to assist. Oil on board ship is being loaded into portable tanks and airlifted off the tanker by helicopter. The New York Times website said on Friday that almost all the remaining oil has been pumped from the ship, so the spillage should not get worse over the weekend.

Forbes.com says that the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation has 40 conservation programs operating to support various endangered species. Here, there are 15 of the most iconic species and habitats that have been directly impacted by the oil spill, and which the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation and other local environmental groups are fighting to save.

Now ARRL.org reports another step in ARRL’s increased focus on strengthening its emergency communications capabilities and long-standing working relationships with federal and state agencies and private emergency response organizations, in hiring Paul Z. Gilbert, KE5ZW, of Cedar Park, Texas, as its first Director of Emergency Management.

Gilbert brings more than 30 years of experience in public service in both his professional and amateur radio endeavours. Beginning with his appointment as Emergency Coordinator in 1987, he has held multiple positions in the ARRL Field Organization. Currently in his second term as South Texas Section Manager, he has also served for more than a decade as the West Gulf Division’s Assistant Director for Public Service, acting as liaison between Division leadership and local, state, and federal emergency management organizations.

Professionally, Gilbert most recently was Radio Officer, HQ Staff, for the Texas State Guard, where for the past 6 years he has been responsible for the planning and implementation of the organization’s communications capabilities. Previously he was a Public Safety Radio Coordinator for a Texas agency, charged with overseeing that organization’s large-scale disaster communications response and identifying and eliminating in-state interoperability issues.

In his new role, Gilbert will manage a team responsible for supporting ARRL Emergency Communications (EmComm) programs and services, including the Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES®) and National Traffic System (NTS), as well as leading the continued modernization of those programs in consonance with the future emergency communications needs of the public and ARRL’s key partners.

This week’s ARRL letter reports that an auxiliary cable that helps to support a metal platform above the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope’s reflector dish in Puerto Rico snapped in the early morning hours of August 10th, causing a 100-foot gash in the reflector dish. Operations at the world-famous observatory, which is managed by the University of Central Florida (UCF), have been halted until repairs can be made. When the heavy 10 cm cable fell, it also damaged about a half-dozen panels in the Gregorian dome above the dish and twisted the platform used to access the dome. The cause of the cable break is not yet clear.

“We have a team of experts assessing the situation,” Observatory Director Francisco Cordova said. “Our focus is assuring the safety of our staff, protecting the facilities and equipment, and restoring the facility to full operations as soon as possible, so it can continue to assist scientists around the world.”

UCF manages the National Science Foundation (NSF) facility under a cooperative agreement with Universidad Ana G. Méndez and Yang Enterprises Inc. Home to one of the most powerful telescopes on the planet, the facility is used by scientists around the world to conduct research in the areas of atmospheric sciences, planetary sciences, radio astronomy, and radar astronomy. Arecibo is also home to a team that runs the Planetary Radar Project supported by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program in NASA’s Planetary Defence Coordination Office, through a grant awarded to UCF.

The facility has endured many hurricanes, tropical storms, and earthquakes since it was built 50 years ago. Repairs from Hurricane Maria in 2017 are still ongoing. Through it all, the facility has continued to contribute to significant breakthroughs in space research in the area of gravitational waves, asteroid characterization, planetary exploration, and more.

The largest single-dish radio telescope in the world for decades, Arecibo was bumped into second place in 2016 by the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in China.

The Arecibo Observatory Radio Club operates KP4AO at the site, mostly on special occasions.

Finally, a strange phenomenon has been noted in patients with Covid-19, who need admission to ICU and oxygen of some sort or other. Observations have revealed that those seriously ill patients who have a headache when they are admitted to ICU do better than those who don’t have a headache. There is no obvious reason why this should be so. Headache is such a universal symptom of fever and infection that one might have expected the statistics to be the other way round.

Nobody said that the coronavirus infection was not novel!

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

HAMNET Report 9th August 2020

The premier of the Australian state of Victoria plunged the region into a “state of disaster” last Sunday, announcing even stricter lockdown measures, introducing a nightly curfew and banning virtually all trips outdoors after Australia’s second largest state recorded 671 new Covid-19 infections in a single day.

Premier Daniel Andrews told Victorians at a news conference that “we have to do more, and we have to do more right now,” as the state battles to contain a devastating coronavirus outbreak that had already stripped residents of their freedoms, livelihoods and social interactions, and made it an outlier from the rest of the country.

“Where you slept last night is where you’ll need to stay for the next six weeks,” Andrews said, announcing a curfew between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. beginning Sunday evening and moving Metropolitan Melbourne into stage four lockdown measures.

In that part of the state, only one person per household will be allowed to leave their homes once a day — outside of curfew hours — to pick up essential goods, and they must stay within a 5 kilometre radius of their home. Melburnians had already been under strict measures for most of July after the area was identified as the epicentre of Australia’s second wave.

The draconian new rules were spurred by more bleak Covid-19 figures. Seven new deaths were announced on Saturday, bringing the state’s total to 123, and there have been 11,557 confirmed infections.

In addition, Andrews said the state has 760 “mystery cases,” where “we cannot trace back the source of that person’s infection.”

“Those mysteries and that community transmission are in many respects our biggest challenges and the reason why we need to move to a different set of rules,” Andrews said. “The whole way through this, I promised to be upfront. So I’ll say this now. This will be imperfect. And for a little while, there’ll be more questions than answers,” he added, after the swath of new measures.

We thank CNN for this news of a possible second wave starting in Australia.

Meanwhile, The Japan Times reports that cardboard partitions are becoming more common as shields to prevent infection with the novel coronavirus via droplets among people staying at disaster shelters following the recent heavy rains that hit some regions of Japan.

An increasing number of companies are developing such products, which can be assembled easily, reshaped freely and can even be recycled.

Kato Danboru Co. developed a cardboard partition product for use at shelters jointly with the city government of Noda, Chiba Prefecture, after the Tokyo-based company introduced to the municipality a desk partition to help prevent coronavirus infection.

The company plans to deliver to the city 2,100 sets of the product. The jointly developed partition is 2 meters in length and width and 1.45 meters in height when assembled. It is designed for use by three people at a time.

Pictures with the article show a raised pedestal surrounded by a cardboard wall creating a semi-private, and more isolated space for a group of 2 to 3 people to protect them from direct contamination from other refugees. The shelter has a high roof or ceiling, of course, so ventilation, and dilution of any possible coronavirus, is more effectively achieved.

In that the cardboard can be reused or recycled, this is a clever and fairly inexpensive solution to the problem of social separation, when large numbers of people are gathered in a temporary shelter after a natural disaster.

With the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) expecting Tropical Storm Isaias to become a hurricane again on Monday the 3rd, and make landfall that evening, the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) reactivated at 1600 UTC on 14.325 MHz. HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said the net would shift operations at 2300 UTC to 7.268 MHz, where it would remain until no longer needed by the NHC

“The centre of Isaias was expected to approach the coast of north-eastern South Carolina and southern North Carolina within the hurricane warning area later that day,” the NHC said. The centre was predicted to move inland over eastern North Carolina that night, and move along the coast of the mid-Atlantic States on Tuesday and into the north-eastern United States by Tuesday night.”

The HWN initially activated on July 31 at 1500 UTC, when Isaias was about 245 miles southeast of Nassau. “During the next 41 hours, we relayed the latest advisories to those in the Bahamas, south Florida, as well as mariners and shortwave listeners, Graves said. “Because Isaias was forecast to regain strength to a Category 1 hurricane, and hurricane watches and warnings remained in effect for the Florida coast as well as areas in the Bahamas, the Net remained activated.” After the NHC dropped all hurricane watches and warnings on Sunday morning, and the storm was no longer believed to become a hurricane, the HWN secured operations on Sunday, August 1.

“During the course of 41 hours, we never received any reports from the Bahamas,” Graves said. “We did hear from many south Florida stations, but the storm was not yet close enough at the time for [that area] to be adversely affected.

Although Isaias hadn’t turned into a monster hurricane, radio amateurs from all over South Carolina had been preparing for days as the South Carolina Emergency Operations Centre geared up for the storm. Isaias was predicted to make landfall on the border of North Carolina and South Carolina.

Thank you to the ARRL News for permitting this summary of their news.

Finally, another confirmation of the importance of the loss of the sense of smell as being the most important diagnostic feature of Covid-19 comes from Oxford University, where Professor Tim Spektor and his group are running the vaccine trial in which South Africa is participating.

The Oxford group has pioneered a cell-phone app in that country, by means of which you submit the state of your health, daily and anonymously, as well as results of Covid-19 tests you may have had done. From 2.8 million contributors amongst the general public, the app is helping to build an appreciation of which symptoms are most likely to be associated with positive cases. This example of artificial intelligence is telling them that clinicians should regard loss of the sense of smell, or Anosmia, as a more diagnostic sign of Covid-19, than a chronic cough, or a fever.

There is no reason why this sort of artificial intelligence could not be harnessed to develop diagnostic protocols for other diseases, which are commonly missed, because data in great enough quantity is never gathered to allow easy diagnosis.

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

HAMNET Report 2nd August 2020

The ARRL has reported that the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) activated for Hurricane Hanna, the first hurricane of the Atlantic Hurricane season. The storm was poised to make landfall along the Gulf of Mexico. A Category 1 storm, Hanna had maximum sustained winds of 120 km/h. At the time of the report, the storm was about 90 miles east-northeast of Port Mansfield, Texas, and about 100 miles east-southeast of Corpus Christi, Texas.

WX4NHC at the NHC also activated for Hanna, and participated in the HWN on 14.325 MHz, as well as on the VoIP Weather Net .

Bobby Graves KB5HAV said “We are also available to provide back-up communication to official agencies such as emergency operations centres, Red Cross officials, and storm shelters in the affected area. We will also be interested to collect and report significant damage assessment and storm surge data back to the forecasters as well as to FEMA officials stationed in the National Hurricane Centre.”

Due to COVID-19 precautions, WX4NHC operators are operating from their homes.

Meanwhile, there is an orange alert for another Hurricane named Isaias-20, active in the Atlantic, and approaching the Caribbean, predicted to proceed up the East coast of Florida towards the Carolinas. With current maximum wind speeds of about 140 km/h, it is currently threatening all the Caribbean islands and Florida. It is to be expected, though not yet reported, that the National Hurricane Centre will remain on standby, monitoring the path of the storm, and activating WX4NHC if amateur radio is called upon for weather reports and message handling.

The ARRL Letter this week reports that the airship Dirigible Italia crashed on pack ice northeast of the Svalbard Islands on 25th May 1928, on the return leg of a trip to survey the North Pole with 16 passengers and crew on board. At impact, one person was killed, and the cabin carrying nine people separated from the hydrogen-filled airframe. Six crew members on the dirigible structure were never seen again, after the airship again became airborne. The survivors on the icepack turned to their 5 W wireless set, a one-tube Hartley oscillator, to put out a call for help, but it was only after 9 days of trying that they were able to get the attention of a radio amateur 1,900 kilometres away.

The recently published article, “The Shipwreck of the Airship Dirigibile Italia in the 1928 Polar Venture: A Retrospective Analysis of the Ionospheric and Geomagnetic Conditions,” provides the gripping historical context and tries to explain why it was so difficult to establish communication for a rescue. Drawing from sources of geophysical data collected at the time, and using modern theories of propagation — including some directly derived from amateur radio observations — the authors present data including sunspot count, magnetic flux, and F2 layer height, and take the reader through an analysis of the sky-wave and ground-wave paths.

Ultimately, the authors suggest, ground-wave path losses likely exceeded 100 dB, leaving only skywave as a potential link. In the first few days after the crash, the ionospheric path was impossible at the frequencies being used — 9.1 and 9.4 MHz — due to disturbed conditions. It was only after conditions had settled that communication became possible, and it only became reliable when a lower frequency was chosen.

Even after communication was established, 15 rescuers were lost in the search and recovery operations, including Roald Amundsen, Norway’s famed polar explorer. Finally, on July 12, 1928, 48 days after the initial crash, a Russian icebreaker was able to reach and rescue the survivors.

Propagation conditions really can become a matter of life or death.

Further, Tech Explorist tells us that Solar flares are an explosion of energy caused by tangling, crossing, or reorganizing of magnetic field lines near sunspots. Solar flares release a lot of radiation into space. If a solar flare is very intense, the radiation it releases can interfere with our radio communications here on Earth.

The X-ray light emitted by a flare, and the ejection of material from the Sun that often accompanies them can produce powerful space weather effects on Earth. These can pose hazards to astronauts, spacecraft, and technological systems on the ground, such as electric power grids and radio communications.

As global society turns out to be more dependent on these technologies, there is an increasing need for reliable techniques to anticipate imminent solar events and improve cautioning times when they happen. In spite of many years of study and near persistent monitoring of the sun’s magnetic activity, the specific conditions and mechanisms that produce flares remain unknown, making them especially difficult to gauge.

Kanya Kusano and colleagues presented a new model called ‘κ-scheme (kappa-scheme) to forecast large solar flares more reliably than previous methods. This physics-based scheme predicts when a large solar flare is imminent using routine magnetic observations of the Sun.

It derives critical thresholds of a magneto-hydrodynamic instability. It also identifies where the flare will occur and how much energy could be released.

Scientists tested the model by analysing data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory from 2008 to 2019, finding that the κ-scheme was able to identify the occurrence, location, and size of most large flares, up to 20 hours in advance.

Finally, Sue Kerr, writing in The Leader-Vindicator, says that as a senior citizen, she tends to stick close to home. She’s not a coward, far from it, but she just doesn’t feel like picking up the coronavirus and sharing it with her frail family members.

As a result, there’s more tinkering going on. She’d like to improve her soldering skills, she’d like to play around with amateur radio and there are all kinds of nifty and useful things that she (an average person) can make.

She says lifelong learning is not limited to the so-called smart people. It’s only a matter of scratching our curiosity itch. And it’s good for us.

She says COVID-19 has made us change the way we do some things. Before it hit, she’d never been in a Zoom teleconference. It sure works better for her than the out-of-date software she had to use for a freelancing gig back in 2013.

So, this creepy little virus has us doing things in new ways. If we’re wishing and praying for things to get back to normal, we should consider the possibility that the new normal might actually be better — simpler, more convenient, maybe even less expensive.

Thank you for the perspective, Sue!

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