HAMNET Report 14th November 2021

eNCA reports that the blast from a fuel tanker that blew up in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown last week claimed 131 lives, authorities said on Wednesday.

“(The) death toll has risen to 131, with 63 people hospitalised,” Lamarana Bah, head of communications at the National Disaster Management Agency, told AFP.

The disaster happened when a lorry crashed into a fuel tanker on Friday in an industrial area of Freetown. A crowd gathered to try to scoop up leaking fuel but the tanker then blew up, engulfing them in a fireball.

The country made an appeal for blood donations and bandages, painkillers and infusion fluids for the injured.

The World Health Organisation managed to deliver 6.6 metric tons of emergency medical supplies by the 8th of November. to support the government and people of Sierra Leone in responding to the fire disaster on the 5th. The emergency medical kits contain medicines, fluid infusions, disinfectants, autoclave sterilizer, dressings for burns and gloves amongst other things. These commodities can treat as many as 600 people with severe burns.

Our thoughts are with the survivors, and the medical teams treating them.

Michael, ZS1MJT, has again reported on a search-and-rescue exercise involving the software SARTrack, and Automatic Position Reporting System (APRS) tracker beacons, to monitor the progress of searchers in a simulation.

On the 6th of November, he assisted the Hottentot’s Holland division of the Mountain Club of South Africa in the Stellenbosch area, as they practised their search techniques. Five teams set off from a base, equipped with tracker beacons, transmitting their coordinates every two minutes, while Michael received the signals by radio, and SARTrack decoded their positions and displayed them on a map.

Because he had cell phone reception at the base, he was able to export the tracking information on to the internet using a hotspot he created on his cell phone. This meant other authorities, who needed to know where the searchers were, didn’t need to be peering over his shoulder at the base.

In fact, he says, SARTrack “could be positioned in an area where there is better line of sight to the APRS units. This can then be connected to the internet, and base in turn can monitor from the internet. The entire time, the radio and laptop was run off 12V DC, confirming that the setup can be operated in remote areas or during load shedding where electricity supply is not needed.”

He also noted that he was “operating in HAM mode and although good enough for the exercise, it is more limited compared to Search-and-Rescue (SAR) mode. We are hoping to use SAR mode next time to practise with the local server, giving more options and saving search details to use in training or being able to refer back to incidents should queries arise,” he said.

He regards the exercise as proving to be a “valuable learning curve for all, showing the capabilities and ease of operation for Search and Rescue.”

Thanks, Michael for making those features more obviously useful for us all.

Those of you interested in Mars exploration will have been fired up by the Perseverance Mission this year, and the helicopter Ingenuity, which is still flying missions long after its expected failure. But did you know the numbers surrounding a satellite which orbits Mars called Mars Odyssey Orbiter?

This less well known satellite and seldom quoted orbiter has now been orbiting Mars for 20 years, completing 88000 orbits of the planet, and supporting 6 Mars missions that took place after it was there. Furthermore, it has taken 1.2 million images of the planet, returned 16 Terabits of data to Earth, and relayed 1 Terabit of data from mars surface missions! Bearing in mind that all the technology on that spacecraft was developed before it was placed in orbit 20 years ago, in other words about 25 years ago, it has done jolly well to keep going, doing what it does without failure. That says a lot about the quality control of the mechatronics on board!

Now, if I could only get my toaster to keep working like that!

And while we’re verging on the ridiculous, the Daily Maverick informed me on Tuesday that the statute books in Oklahoma say that 7pm in the evening is the cutoff time for you legally to have a donkey in your bathtub! I kid you not. You cannot make this stuff up..

Now more down to earth, so to speak, and from the Sun, an active region on the Sun was seen bursting to life on Tuesday and releasing an M2-class or “medium-large” solar flare. The sudden burst of energy was recorded at about 17h01 UTC on the Sun’s north-eastern side. A sequence of images snapped by NASA’S Solar Dynamics Observatory showed an intense burst of light erupting from the Sun’s surface.

The announcement was corroborated by the US Space Weather Prediction Centre (SWPC), which warned of minor radio blackout impacts and “occasional loss of radio contact” on the Earth’s sunlit side on Wednesday.

Solar flares are ranked on a scale of C-class to X-class, based on their brightness and X-ray wavelengths. The weakest (C-class) flares typically go unnoticed by most as they tend not to disrupt technology on Earth.

X-class flares are much more concerning as they have the potential to knock out radio communications and trigger radiation storms in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. One such flare erupted from the Sun last month and was followed by a significant coronal mass ejection (CME) – a large stream of plasma and magnetic field from the Sun’s atmosphere.

Wednesday’s storm was an M2-class, meaning it was medium-sized but still big enough to disrupt communications over parts of the planet. Medium-sized flares are sometimes followed by minor radiation storms and CMEs.

According to the website SpaceWeather.com, the flare appears to have knocked out some radio communications over the Americas.

The explosion almost certainly produced a CME, but it wasn’t Earth-directed because the blast arose from an active region located just behind the Sun’s north-eastern limb.

Coronal mass ejections are large clouds of solar plasma and magnetic field that can interact with the Earth’s magnetosphere after a solar eruption. According to NASA, they often measure many millions of miles across as they fan out into space.

Thank you to express.co.uk for this summary of their news report.

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