HAMNET Report 12th September 2021

This week it is China’s turn to be in the Tropical Cyclone spotlight. On Tuesday, two storms running parallel to each other in a north-westerly direction were announced. Tropical Cyclone CHANTHU was aiming for the mid-eastern coastline of China, having skimmed over the top of the Philippines and threatening nearly 6 million souls. And Tropical Cyclone CONSON was going to cross central Philippines, before making landfall on China’s coastline, slightly more south of CHANTHU and bringing danger to over a million people in its path.

By Wednesday afternoon, a RED alert for CHANTHU was announced, potentially bringing winds of up to 260 km/h, and imminent danger to 7.4 million people in China.

On Wednesday morning, our Region One coordinator, Greg Mossop G0DUB reported that he had received a communique from the Region Two coordinator, Carlos Alberto Santamaria Gonzalez CO2JC about an earthquake that had just occurred in Acapulco, Mexico, perceptible in the country’s capital and whose preliminary data from the National Seismological System were a Magnitude of 6.9, an epicentre 14km southeast of Acapulco, on 7th September at 20h47 their time, and at a depth of 10km.

Zian Julio Aguirre Taboada, XE1ATZ, director of Mexico’s National Emergency Network reported that nets were already active on a frequency of 7120 kHz.

At the time of the communique there were no reports of structural damage or loss of life. CO2JC reported that they were monitoring the frequency for any calls for help.

In the face of a potentially disastrous storm like Hurricane Ida, people take to Twitter and other social media sites to communicate vital information. New research published in the journal Risk Analysis suggests that monitoring and analysing this social media “chatter” during a natural disaster could help decision makers learn how to plan for and mitigate the impacts of severe weather events in their communities.

Jose E. Ramirez-Marquez from the Stevens Institute of Technology and Gabriela Gongora-Svartzman from Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College performed an analysis of more than six million Twitter posts over time during three major hurricanes that made landfall in 2017: Harvey (Texas), Irma (Florida), and Maria (Puerto Rico). The goal of their study was to develop and test a new method for measuring social cohesion, an important factor in a community’s resilience during the severe weather events brought on by climate change.

The methodology presented in Risk Analysis involves combining and implementing text processing techniques and graph network analysis to understand the relationships among nine different categories of Twitter users during a hurricane. These include citizens, media, government, entertainment, business, charity-NGOs-volunteers, sports, technology-science-education, and other verified accounts. Knowing who the participants are behind the messages can help researchers identify how authorities communicate which kinds of messages, how people affected by the hurricanes interact with them, and what their needs are.

Visualizations incorporated into the study illustrate the connections between social media participants and the degree of social cohesion throughout each hurricane’s timeline.

Social cohesion has been described as “the glue that holds society together.” It affects how a community comes together in times of need. Social cohesion can help reduce the number of vulnerabilities experienced by a community during a disaster and reduce the time it takes to rebuild. The stronger the social cohesion, the more resilient a community is.

Visualizations in the study illustrate the seven metrics that are combined to create a single measurement of social cohesion. One of those metrics is information dissemination. This refers to the intensity of tweets, or communication between participants, during the timeline captured for each hurricane. This timeline of social media activity for each hurricane shows how active participants were on each day before, during, and after the hurricane. A graph of the data shows that the intensity of communication peaks for each hurricane shortly before or shortly after it makes landfall. In the case of Maria in Puerto Rico, the analysis shows that a significant amount of conversation continues for more than a week after the hurricane ends—signifying that post-disaster management strategies were being put in place, rescues were occurring, and rebuilding efforts were starting to evolve.

The researchers hope this new method for tracking and visualizing social media communications during a severe storm can contribute to future risk management and disaster mitigation policies. “Because we identify the types of actors in a social network and how this network varies daily,  decision makers could use this measurement to release strategic communication before, during, and after a disaster strikes—thus providing relevant information to people in need,” says Ramirez-Marquez.

In light of the disastrous impacts of Hurricane Ida on the people of New Orleans, he adds, it is important to understand what happened during each storm to mitigate the impacts on the most vulnerable people. “If we had a national database of the social media communications pre-during-post disaster then we would be able better to identify the needs of a community and the limitations of current policy and response,” says Ramirez-Marquez. “It is concerning that the communities that experienced the harshest effects during Katrina will again be harshly affected during Ida. This shows a lack of learning from past events.”

Thanks to Phys.org for this interesting research report.

The ARRL reports that Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation (HamSCI) founder Nathaniel Frissell, W2NAF — an assistant professor in The University of Scranton’s Physics and Engineering Department — has been awarded a grant through the NASA Space Weather Applications Operations Phase II Research Program. Frissell will serve as principal investigator for a research project entitled, “Enabling Space Weather Research with Global Scale Amateur Radio Datasets.” He’ll collaborate with Philip Erickson, W1PJE, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Haystack Observatory and Bill Engelke, AB4EJ, at the University of Alabama.

“This grant includes significant funding for participation of Scranton undergraduate students in this research, as well as support for new computation resources,” Frissell said. He explained that the grant will fund “the development of an empirical model for the prediction of traveling ionospheric disturbances (TIDs) in high-frequency radio communications while investigating the geophysical drivers of these disturbances.” The grant will cover 2 years of work.

Frissell said that the predictive, empirical TID models will be developed using data collected by the Reverse Beacon Network, WSPR, and PSKreporter — all automated, global-scale radio communication observation networks operated by the amateur radio community. Undergraduate students will help the faculty researchers to create algorithms used for the model development.

Professor Frissell is to be congratulated for the manner in which he has drawn amateur radio in to Citizen Science.

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

HAMNET Report 5th September 2021

Eight days ago, Tropical Storm Ida was a category 1 storm in the Caribbean, with winds of less than 120km/h, and threatening Cuba, and then Louisiana. By Sunday last it had strengthened to have winds in the 240km/h range, and threatening 2.7 million people in its path. It made landfall in Louisiana as a category 4 storm, and knocked out power for more than a million subscribers.

Excerpts from the ARRL letter this week say that the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) and the VoIP Hurricane Net (VoIP WX) were busy gathering ground-truth weather observations from radio amateurs as Hurricane Ida slammed into the Louisiana Gulf Coast on August 29 as a powerful Category 4 storm. ARRL Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES®) teams in Mississippi activated. Ida wrought extensive damage, especially in Louisiana and Mississippi, and left some 1 million customers in New Orleans and elsewhere without power — and some communities without water. Downgraded to a tropical depression, Ida continued its path up the eastern seaboard, causing further flash flooding and damage and even spawning a few tornadoes in the Mid-Atlantic States. The storm shut down New York City’s subways as well as rail and air traffic in New Jersey before moving into New England. At least 10 people died in the region as a result of the storm.

For the HWN, it was all hands on deck on Sunday, August 29, as the net resumed operation on both 14.325 MHz and 7.268 MHz. “We had a great number of reporting stations throughout the day and well into the evening,” HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said. “Unfortunately, there were times in which propagation completely disappeared.”

All told, the HWN was activated for 26 hours over the weekend, fielding reports ranging from mild winds to very high winds and torrential rainfall.

The VoIP Hurricane Net activation for Hurricane Ida wrapped up on Monday, August 30 after handling dozens of reports from stations in the affected area of Hurricane Ida that were sent to WX4NHC, the National Hurricane Centre Amateur Radio Station.

VoIP Hurricane Net Manager Rob Macedo, KD1CY, said radio amateurs on the N5OZG repeater system “provided constant ground truth from areas in and around New Orleans. All of these reports were also sent to WX4NHC, the amateur radio station at the National Hurricane Centre, as well.” Net control stations across the US also assisted with reporting and monitoring.

The Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES®) in Mississippi activated on August 29 with several nets. On Sunday, August 29, VHF ARES nets were activated around the state for the purpose of passing weather reports, health-and-welfare traffic, and damage reports as needed.

Both the Mississippi ARES Emergency Net and the Mississippi Winlink Net activated on August 29. The Winlink Net operated until 18:00 on August 30, passing 80 messages, which were copied to KM5EMA, the Winlink station at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

According to further media reports, more than 40 people have died, of which 23 were in New Jersey, 13 in New York City, 5 in Pennsylvania, and 1 in Connecticut, 1 in Virginia and another in Maryland. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports evacuated people in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and more than 100,000 people without power across New York and New Jersey. In addition, several rivers are at a major flood level.

Thanks to the various agencies for these compiled reports.

I received a report from Brian ZS1BTD, who assisted with an Air Sea Rescue exercise at Strandfontein Beach in the Cape on the 29th August. He writes:

“Arriving soon after 07:00B, a member of the BMW motorcycle club and I (representing WSAR) looked for a suitable landing zone. The usual LZ had numerous mole heaps. Walking in this area, I found myself falling up to 40cm into these holes. This made the area unusable and hazardous.

“An adjacent field had accommodated the dismantled desalination plant. Half the field had wooden sticks protruding in rows. The rest had parallel mounds crossing the width. It appeared to be made up of clay soil. This turned out to be ideal as it was firm and slightly moist, resulting in no dust during the exercise.

Sky-Med arrived at around 08:00.  (A potential Table Mountain callout had not materialized). Therefore extra exercise time was afforded. The Crew consisted of two pilots and two ELO’s (External Line Operators). Unfortunately only two out of five swimmers were on hand. One was from AMS, a female who volunteered to be a casualty. A senior female life guard from Fish Hoek also acted as a patient.  Station 16 provided the rest of the ‘casualties’. Various types of retrieval methods were practised, including something called ‘T-bagging’. The LZ was controlled, preventing any public access.

“After the swimmer and patient/casualty touched down, the long line was retrieved by kneeling down and zig-zagging it in front of you, while Sky-Med landed about 5 metres in front of that. The line was then passed under the skids. The attached end was handed to an ELO who loaded the line into a bag, with the end buoy and hook going in last.  A chopper landing in front of you is quite exhilarating, but focusing on securing the long line keeps your mind at ease.

“All in all it was reported to be a highly successful training session. All parties contributed to it being safe and informative.

“There was a request from the pilot for the Rescue craft to be positioned at 10 o’clock to the patient in the water.  This provided orientation when Sky-Med approached the swimmer and patient for the lift. This is a major help as it is difficult for the pilot to see below his aircraft.   The principal swimmer also gave a few instructions and requests.  Comm’s were maintained between the LZ and 16 Base.

“Ground communications at the LZ was conducted by me (ZS1BTD), but was limited to Marine Band. Sky-Med ZS-HCG requested for comm’s to be on Air Band as it had had all other radio’s removed. This was not possible as I did not have an Air Band radio available.  Hand signals were used instead.”

Thanks, Brian, for the comprehensive report. Well done there on demonstrating your capabilities.

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

HAMNET Report 29th August 2021

Hurricane Season continues to exert its effect on the Americas and the Caribbean. Some old ones are still around, some new ones are popping up almost on a daily basis. No serious category four storms yet, but heavy rainfall, and property damage evident in lots of countries and islands.

Henri moved up the eastern coast of North America this week, and came ashore between Rhode Island and Connecticut, and weakened as it crossed into Wisconsin. It was forecast to turn north-east and exit land via Massachusetts, dissipating in the north Atlantic.

Grace made landfall last weekend over the eastern coast of Veracruz, Mexico, as a category three hurricane, and caused 8 deaths, with many municipalities suffering damage. It was expected to last until about last Tuesday.

Hurricanes Grace and Henri drew the attention of weather spotters over the past week. The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN), which tracked both storms to gather weather data for the National Hurricane Center (NHC), was able to stop operations at 1800 UTC on August 22 after watching Grace make two landfalls in Mexico.

All told, the HWN racked up a combined total of 27 hours on the air — with two activations for Hurricane Grace and two for Hurricane Henri. Only one station reported from Mexico, but the net remained available to assist in any capacity needed.

Meanwhile Venezuela in South America was also suffering. Reports of heavy rainfall and widespread flooding started to emerge on Wednesday, and Greg G0DUB relayed a message from Carlos CO2JC, IARU Region 2 Emergency Communications coordinator saying that he had received information from Messrs. Alfredo José Medina Alvarez, YV5SF, president of the Venezuelan Radio Club and Luis E. González, YV5KKT, Chief of Operations of the National Emergency Network, that, since that morning they were activated to support communications to Civil Protection with the sectors of the state of Mérida that were affected by the rains, since they were cut off by landslides on the access roads and by telephone communications due to cuts in the electrical system. [They deduced] that the electric power plant was covered by mud.

They also informed Carlos that there were people missing due to the rains, which were still falling. The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela was coordinating aid to the affected areas.

At noon on Tuesday they were waiting for the state’s emergency care teams to arrive in the areas with VHF and HF communication equipment to be able to report on the condition of the residents of the affected regions.

Venezuelan colleagues were using 7135 kHz in the 40m band for communication with the affected areas.

On Thursday, a category one storm, called Nora was announced, on the Western coast of Mexico, moving North-west up the coastline with wind speeds of up to 120km/h, and threatening one hundred and sixty thousand people up that coastline.

Also on Thursday, a hurricane called Ida, was announced, with wind speeds up to 220km/h, moving North-west across the Caribbean ocean, and heading over Cuba in the direction of New Orleans, potentially threatening one and a half million people.

On Friday, Greg relayed another message from Carlos CO2JC saying that, taking into account the proximity, evolution and trajectory of the tropical storm Ida that threatened western Cuba, during the night and early morning the emergency networks of amateur radio operators were activated in the western provinces.

The province of Pinar del Río and the Special Municipality of Isla de la Juventud activated their networks on Thursday night and the provinces of Artemisa, Havana and Mayabeque did so early in the morning on Friday.

The National Emergency Network was to be activated at 12:00 UTC on the frequencies 7.110 MHz (priority) and 7.120 MHz (secondary), as well as on the repeaters and live frequencies of the provinces and municipalities in the 2m band.

After all that weather, I think we need a bit of contrasting news.

On Tuesday the 24th, Jan Rozema, PA0NON, emergency comms coordinator for the Netherlands, announced that their organization will be holding a JS8Call exercise next Saturday, the 4th of September, in two parts. Operating on 7078KHz on both occasions, there will be an hour long session from 08h00 to 09h00 UTC, and a second three-hour session starting at 10h00 and ending at 13h00 UTC. Their group name will be @solarf21, and their station call will be PI9D. Jan extends an invitation to all IARU region 1 operators to take part.

Here’s a problem that will never befall South Africa! It has to do with bullet trains. Patentlyapple.com notes that, when it comes to high-speed trains, China’s rail system is in a class by itself, according to the Railway Gazette International’s latest World Speed Survey. China’s fastest trains, the G17 and G39 trains between Beijing and Nanjing, reached a top speed of 317.7 km/h during their test period, slightly below their maximum speed of 350 km/h. But this data point doesn’t begin to capture China’s complete domination of the world’s high-speed rail race. Europe also has a number of high-speed trains. In the US, progress is slow but it’s beginning to happen throughout the U.S.

So now is the time for Apple to address the needs of passengers on these new high-speed trains and [this week] they were granted a patent titled “High speed train in new radio (NR),” that covers techniques for employing new radio (NR) communications for high-speed train environments.

[The problem appears to be that decent LTE coverage on a train travelling so fast is difficult to guarantee or manage.]

[So what is needed] is user equipment (UE) velocity-oriented mobility management for long term evolution (LTE) networks for high-speed trains capable of about 200 km/h or more. As more users increasingly take high speed trains as their first choice of travel mode, and more cities are being connected by high-speed railway, operators are trying to provide better coverage along the railway better to serve the users on high-speed trains.

Thanks to patentlyapple.com for these excerpts from their article.

I think we have a long way to go before connectivity on board trains becomes a problem in South Africa!

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

HAMNET Report 22nd August 2021

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake on the island of Haiti last week resulted in at least 1400 fatalities, about 7000 injuries, and 83000 houses damaged or destroyed. Assistance from various parts of the world is only starting to arrive now.

In the meantime, Tropical Cyclone Grace sweeping past nearby is complicating rescue efforts and the situation of those that have been displaced. Grace is moving more or less due west across the Bay of Mexico aimed directly at Mexico, with maximum wind speeds of 140 km/h, possibly affecting 3.7 million people in that region.

Tropical cyclone Henri is moving North East away from the east coast of North America, and last week’s Linda has drifted off from the West coast of Mexico in the general direction of Japan, neither causing much distress. Tropical Cyclone Fred has dissipated near the Florida panhandle.

The Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre, in conjunction with the South African Weather Service, is holding a training session on 1st September for Search and Rescue operators.

SA Weather Service has a function available on their Aviation website ( aviation.weathersa.co.za ) in which flight plan routings can be input and a weather summary generated. During an aeronautical SAR operation, where required, the ARCC will send out a generated report in PDF format to the On Scene Commander/Rescue Officer/Station Commander of the weather forecast. This is in an abbreviated format containing a lot of useful information. Ms Lauren Smith, Forecaster at the Cape Town Weather officer, SAWS, has kindly availed herself for an information session and will be going through a weather report to explain the information contained within.

The session will take place on the 1 September 2021 at 19h00 on Microsoft Teams. The Link has been shared with contacts in each SAR organisation.

Hamnet members have been encouraged in each division to register for the session, whereafter the virtual meeting details will be emailed to you. Please make contact with your Regional HAMNET Director if you haven’t done so already.

Sometimes amateur radio can help in most devious ways. Sometimes a call to the wrong number can end up going to the right people.

Bill Scott, a resident of California’s San Joaquin County, helped save his best friend’s life earlier this summer thanks to his trusty ham radio, CBS station KOVR reported.

Back in June, Bill — who has been an amateur radio operator for four decades — received an unusual call.

“I thought it was a prank call at first,” he told the outlet.

Eventually, Bill figured out that his friend Skip Kritcher, who lived 500 miles away in Oregon, had mistakenly dialled his number — and was in need of help. Bill’s wife, a retired nurse, was the one to realize Kritcher was having a stroke.

“The speech that he had was slurred and my husband couldn’t seem to keep him on task, he was skipping all over and confused,” Sharon told the CBS affiliate in Sacramento.

After realizing what was going on, Bill and his wife called 911. They were able to get Kritcher the help he needed. Afterwards, one family member told the couple that they saved the Oregon man’s life.

“She said that the EMT told her that he would’ve died within a couple of hours,” said Sharon. These days, Kritcher is on the mend — and is still in touch with his life-saving friend.

“Just a miracle that he called the wrong number and got us,” Sharon told KOVR, “and we were able to do something to help him.”

Thanks to uk.sports.yahoo.com for this report.

Now Imperial College London reports that the European Space Agency RadCube mission has launched with the aim of testing new technologies for monitoring potentially devastating space weather.

The RadCube mission is potentially the first step in a new era of monitoring space weather – the variations in the solar wind coming from the Sun, which can disrupt and damage satellites and infrastructure on Earth. On board is a miniature magnetometer instrument made at Imperial.

“We can’t wait to get our first data back on what we hope will be a step-change in our ability to monitor space weather”, said Dr Jonathan Eastwood

RadCube is a ‘CubeSat’ mission – designed to use smaller, cheaper and lower-power components than traditional space missions. CubeSat spacecraft are typically constructed upon multiples of 10 × 10 × 10 cm cubes, and RadCube is made up of three of these base units.

Space weather is a significant threat to infrastructure resilience, as it can affect power grids, navigation, and radio communications. Space weather is listed on the UK National Risk Register, and is increasingly recognised as a major issue, given the increasing role of advanced technologies in all aspects of everyday life.

The technologies in RadCube, if proven to work well in space, could be used in a range of future missions, such as constellations of multiple small satellites working together to measure the solar wind. A constellation of space weather satellites in near-Earth space would be invaluable for monitoring and forecasting space weather events, such as coronal mass ejections, solar flares, and geomagnetic storms.

Members of Imperial’s Department of Physics created a mini magnetometer instrument for RadCube called MAGIC – (MAGnetometer from Imperial College). MAGIC will measure disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by geomagnetic storms.

The individual detectors on MAGIC are less than a millimetre in size, and the total instrument sensor is only eight centimetres cubed, weighing in at just 23 grams. This is in comparison to the sophisticated magnetometers the lab builds for large and expensive space missions, such as the recent  Solar Orbiter mission and the upcoming JUICE mission, which are much larger and weigh several kilograms.

The MAGIC instrument also uses less than a watt of power, compared to up to 20 watts for the larger instruments. While MAGIC is not as sensitive as these larger instruments, as it is much cheaper to build and uses far less power, the technology could be carried on several spacecraft working in tandem. In this way, the lower-quality data is compensated for, by a much larger volume of data.

And so we come closer to understanding and predicting space weather.

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

HAMNET Report 15th August 2021

HAMNET REPORT 15TH AUGUST 2021

Now it is the turn of the Americas to get their share of the tropical storms. Given the unlikely names of Fred and Kevin, Tropical Depression Fred is currently moving North-west, and likely to be affecting Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and then Florida by now. At the time of writing this, Fred’s wind speeds had not reached 100km/h yet.

And Tropical Depression Kevin, is moving North-west in the Pacific ocean, parallel to the coast of Mexico, currently with wind speeds of about 95km/h. There is no danger to human life yet.

I don’t know about you, but I’m struggling to take a tropical storm named “Fred” seriously!

Flooding, however, is always serious. A report from Phys.org notes the causes, patterns and effects of disastrous river floods.  An international group of researchers led by GFZ hydrologist Bruno Merz has investigated this question in a review article published in the journal Nature Reviews Earth and Environment. The short answer: It’s complicated. What is certain, however, is that there is an opposing trend of property damage and personal injury. Since the 1990s, the number of fatalities from river floods has declined worldwide, but the amount of damage has risen sharply. The researchers attribute the decline in casualties to improved flood warning, technical protection measures and heightened hazard awareness.

Asia is the worst hit by floods worldwide: “More than ninety percent of the people affected by flood disasters live in Asia,” says Bruno Merz. The head of GFZ’s Hydrology Section cites a few reasons: “There are huge floodplains of large rivers there, and that’s exactly where many people live together.”

On a long-term average, 125 million people are affected by a disastrous river flood every year. They have to leave their homes, suffer financial losses, are injured, or are even killed. The most dramatic events are those where dams or dikes suddenly break, with flash floods such as the recent ones in Germany and Belgium. The global economic losses from flooding of about 100 billion USD result from both major flood disasters and many smaller, less dramatic events, i.e., as a cumulative effect.

As far as the causes are concerned, the researchers have identified a whole network of factors. These include socioeconomic reasons (poverty, population growth, and higher values in flood-prone regions) as well as natural ones, above all climate change. However, for an extreme weather event to become a disastrous flood, other conditions must be added, such as a lack of awareness of hazards or non-existent or failing protection and warning systems. “The primary focus must therefore be on reducing the vulnerability of communities,” says Bruno Merz. The decline in the number of victims worldwide in recent decades shows that progress is being made here, he adds.

 

At the other extreme, Algeria is struggling to cope with severe fires. Gregg Mossop G0DUB, reports that he has received a communique, which states that, following the extraordinary meeting of the ARA EC and the ORSEC commission held on Wednesday night by videoconference, an intervention plan came into effect on Thursday in Ouacif (Tizi-Ouzou), where an ARA team was dispatched to the scene of the incident, at which the communication network is very weak.
The role of the piloting station at the ARA headquarters is to communicate emergency needs between the mobile station currently located in Ouacif and the crisis unit in Tamda. The mobile station reports its movement in the areas affected by the fires to communicate the needs of the affected villagers.

Frequencies are 7110 KHz, 3650 KHz and 14300 KHz.
This report was sent by Afif Ben Lagha, 7X2RO ARA president.

Here’s a nice story from the Philippines where 20 dogs are about to begin training as rescue dogs. Enquirer.net reports from Ligao City that the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) and the Philippine Coast Guard are training 20 Belgian Malinois Shepherds and Jack Russell terriers to turn them into searchers and rescuers during disasters.

“We want to be ready at all times when it comes to responding to emergencies particularly during the search, retrieval, and rescue operations,” Senior Superintendent Ricardo Perdigon, BFP Bicol director, said Monday.

He said the Search and Rescue Dog Training Course, which started Friday, Aug. 6, at the BFP training school in Tuburan village here, would make the BFP personnel more competent in disaster risk preparedness.

“These dogs will be very useful in looking for missing persons, things, etc., in preparation for the Big One (a major earthquake) and other disasters that might happen,” he said.

Fire Chief Inspector Glenn Rodriqueza, battalion commander of the BFP special rescue force, said the training of the dogs would last for six months.

“We would like to thank some of the private citizens for donating their dogs, which they considered as heroes,” he said, explaining that most of the dogs were donated.

BFP from Romblon, Zamboanga City, and Bicol region are participating in the event.

I like the idea of training Jack Russells – they can smell and find a discarded pork pie at about 10km!

If you’re in a hurry to get an answer back from an extra-terrestrial intelligence, to one of our broadcasted signals, I have bad news for you. Myrtle Frost, writing in The Cleveland American says that, if an alien technological civilization heard any transmission from Earth, it would take around 3,000 years to get an answer.

It is the calculation of the Harvard astronomers Amir Siraj and Abraham Loeb, who addressed the question – in a study published in arXiv , –  following the example of the Copernicus Principle, which establishes that humanity and the Earth are representative of the norm (and not outliers). Loeb recently launched an initiative to search for techno-signatures of civilizations in space.

In this study, Siraj and Loeb focused on a particular aspect of SETI, which they called the Search for Extraterrestrial Response Intelligence (SETRI). By this, they refer to extraterrestrial intelligences that would be motivated to send messages to Earth in response to the detection of technological activity on our planet. This addresses an issue of growing importance to the SETI community.

In short, does humanity ever have the chance to hear of a civilization in another world before ours collapses or is wiped out by a natural disaster?

Put another way: When can we expect our first cosmic conversation to take place?

Your guess is as good as mine!

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

HAMNET Report 8th August 2021

The drama for Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in refugee camps in Bangladesh continues as heavy monsoon rains battered Cox’s Bazar, in the Chittagong Division of south-eastern Bangladesh, over the last 10 days.

At least 21 people have died and over 21,000 refugees have been displaced. There has been extensive damage to refugee shelters, roads, primary health clinics, distribution points and latrines. International agencies and DG ECHO’s humanitarian partners are supporting the affected population, but damaged roads, flooding, and risks of landslides are hindering response efforts. There are concerns surrounding the risk of water-borne diseases and of course COVID-19.

Moderate rainfall with strong winds was forecast over Cox’s Bazar district again for Thursday and Friday.

Andy Tomaswick, writing in Universetoday.com last week, notes that the robotic arms of the ISS are some of its most useful tools.  The arms, designed by Canadian and Japanese space agencies, have been instrumental in ferrying around astronauts and shepherding modules to one side of the ISS.  However, the Russian segment lacked its own robotic arm – until a new one designed by ESA was launched last week.

The European Robotic Arm (ERA) arrived at the ISS on July 29th along with Nauka, the Laboratory Module to which it is attached.  With the help of 5 expected space walks, the arm will soon be commissioned and will start on its first tasks – getting Nauka’s airlock up and running so it can become a permanent part of the station, and installing a large radiator to help handle the increased cooling load of the station.

As part of those projects, ERA will get to show off its skills.  Those include acting like an inchworm, moving hand over hand around the Nauka module.  In addition, it is the first arm to be controllable from either inside or outside the station, and that control will allow astronauts and cosmonauts to move up to 8000 kg to within 5mm of a desired location.

In fact, that level of accuracy doesn’t even need to be manually controlled – the ERA is autonomous and can run strictly off written step-by-step commands.  Its seven degrees of freedom and 9.7 metre reach allow it to access even outside its home module.  Made of carbon fibre and aluminium, it is also strong enough to handle the wear and tear of space, and hopefully the impacts of debris that have affected other arms.

Such impressive specifications took a lot of effort – 14 years of development from 22 companies spread over seven European countries.  But it is part of a larger push to translate the ISS into a more commercially friendly space, with additional research bays, upgraded data links, and external research platforms.

ESA’s plan is to make the ISS relevant at its “mid-life” with the Columbus 2023 programme to perform novel experiments and tests on the station that would be impossible Earth-side.  The ERA is certainly a step in that direction, and the upgrades it will enable should make the ISS an increasingly important place to do research.

Now, a nice story from North Yorkshire, where a lifelong dream came true for a 98-year-old World War veteran when he took to the skies above North Yorkshire in a hot air balloon.

Ron Shelley, who is a resident at a Care Home in York, confided to staff that he would dearly love to take to the skies to mark his 99th birthday next month, so they set about making it happen.

Ron, who supported the D-Day landings 77-years-ago, was delighted when staff revealed the surprise.

On Monday he flew over the glorious North Yorkshire countryside with his son, Peter, after launching from York Racecourse.

He said: “I thought it would be a thrilling one-off experience, a once in a life-time trip, so I’m seizing the chance while I still can.”

During the Second World War, Ron was a wireless operator. He was sent to France six days after D-Day in 1944, aged just 22 and was involved in sending out false missives to “confound and confuse” the enemy.

Ron explains: “It worked.

“My dummy messages, which I sent from a radio truck, led the enemy to believe that there was a whole division of 3,000 men, too many to take on, so they didn’t attack.”

He was also involved with the famous Battle of Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Ron, who also spent time at Catterick Garrison, left the Army as a Sergeant, receiving a number of medals in recognition of his immense bravery.

He has enjoyed a life full of travel and adventure with army postings all over the world and continued his passion for radio as an amateur radio enthusiast.

During a posting to Hong Kong, he was in contact with the famed HMS Amethyst, which was caught up in the Chinese Civil War, the story behind the film The Yangtze Incident.

Thanks to Alexa Fox writing in the Northern Echo for these excerpts from her report.

Good news for DX’ers is that the Bouvet Island DXpedition may almost be on again, with DXpedition co-leader Paul Ewing, N6PSE, noting this week that a new charter vessel contract is in the offing. Braveheart captain Nigel Jolly, K6NRJ, had told the DXpedition in June that the Braveheart was being put up for sale, and he was cancelling its contract for the 3Y0J voyage.

Ewing said this week that the team has found a suitable and affordable vessel whose skipper is willing to take a group of a dozen DXers to Bouvet, and they are negotiating the terms of that charter contract at present.

“We have submitted a new application to the Norwegian Polar Institute,” Ewing said. The team leadership has been revised. David Jorgensen, WD5COV, will be a co-leader, responsible for operations and antennas, while Kevin Rowett, K6TD, will be a co-leader, responsible for systems/networks, procurement, and logistics, and Ewing as a third co-leader, will oversee planning, public relations, tents, and logistics.

A dependency of Norway, Bouvet is a sub-Antarctic volcanic island in the South Atlantic Ocean and number two on the DX most wanted list, after North Korea.

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

HAMNET Report 1st August 2021

Extreme weather continues to batter this troubled planet. The two Tropical Cyclones I mentioned last week have been followed by a third, Cyclone NEPARTAK, which made landfall on the 27th, and brought heavy rainfall over central and northern Hinshu, and southern Hokkaido Island. The Weather Bureau there issued a red warning for heavy rain, flooding and landslides over coastal Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures and over eastern Fukushima Prefecture. Luckily, wind speeds were never very high, and the cyclone’s strength dissipated as it crossed over land.

Meanwhile, the entire Pacific rim of fire has experienced Earthquakes, from high up near Alaska in the Bering Straits area, Mexico, Chile, Peru, the Solomon Islands, Tonga Islands, Vanuata, Australia, the Kermadec region, Japan and Indonesia.

But heavy rains and flooding seem to be even more widespread than the quakes, affecting, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Philippines, the Japanese Islands as mentioned above, as well as Afghanistan, Yemen, and Italy.

And where it isn’t flooding or shaking, it’s burning. With severe hot weather, wildfires are reported in Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, the Italian Island of Sardinia, Spain and Greece.

South Africans can count themselves lucky that they are not often exposed to any of these types of severe natural disaster!

The disastrous flooding which struck parts of the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany last week claiming over 200 lives and with around 150 people still missing, will have long-lasting effects on the region’s population and infrastructure with roads, railways and homes severely impacted.

Dailysportscar.com reports that, for now, the major efforts [in the countries] lie in immediate recovery and support for the local populace.

And it’s in that regard that the Nürburgring has been at the centre of the efforts of the emergency services and regional authorities, the circuit facilities now serving as a hub for all the required services and as a centre too for the collection, sorting and distribution of emergency aid and charitable donations of food, clothing and more or less everything else to be distributed by road and air.

A huge effort was underway to sort the vast array of donations very rapidly at the circuit, with distribution to those in need well underway.

With the Nürburgring facilities in rather more urgent use than that required for motorsport, a number of programmed events have been cancelled or postponed including the ADAC GT Masters event due on 7-8th  August.

Porsche meanwhile has donated a million Euros to the effort. The money is being used to provide emergency aid for flood victims and to help fund the work of the various rescue organisations in the affected regions with further efforts asking its employees for private donations.

“The images from the flood-hit areas have left me shaken. Our thoughts go out to all those who have lost family or friends in this catastrophe or who have lost their homes,” said Oliver Blume, Chairman of the Executive Board at Porsche AG. “It is amazing to see how people have come together in these extraordinary circumstances. Relief organisations are playing a key role in the response to the disaster. We are supporting these efforts so that additional support can reach people on the ground as quickly as possible.” Close quote.

Stephen G7VFY brought to the attention of Southgate Amateur Radio News an article written by Evgeny UA3AHM/OH5HM and Dieter DL1DBY, which notes:

“When going to an outdoor camping trip, we will find that in many parts of the world there is no cell phone service available in the back country. To make matters worse, in these areas there is almost never a VHF/UHF ham radio repeater in range when we need wide-area coverage. Apart from strictly local communications using VHF/UHF simplex radio, how do we send messages to friends and family over great distances? How do we call for help? A similar problem can even arise in an urban environment if a major disaster strikes like the break-down of the power grid.

“In activities like back country trips in areas without cell phone coverage or in a widespread emergency with the loss of our normal means of communication, we can use satellite phones, but this technology is very expensive, requires subscriptions and there is no guarantee that the complex infrastructure of satellite communications will work under all circumstances. The obvious solution for Ham Radio operators will be to switch to shortwave communication using battery operated radios and often NVIS modes of operation. NVIS stands for Near Vertical Incidence Skywave, which means transmitting with special antennas straight up to communicate with other stations 30 km to 300 km away with low power – which would be the most useful communications distance if help is needed. We could use SSB voice communications, but this requires that the person we want to reach is sitting constantly at his or her radio to be able to receive the message. This can be a problem: In a real emergency we probably won’t have time for this. We could instead use capable digital modes with automatic message handling capabilities like JS8Call, but these require notebook computers or other complicated setups in the field which consume a lot of energy and can be difficult to recharge off-grid on a reliable basis.

“Evgeny UA3AHM/OH5HM and Sergej UA9OV have developed another mode of digital shortwave communications, which aims to be easy to use, capable and – most importantly – friendly to the operator’s resources. Apart from a low power battery operated transceiver and a small digital interface, only an Android smartphone is needed, which can be recharged with cheap and readily available consumer-grade solar chargers. Evgeny and Sergej have created an app called “HFpager” which allows one to use the smartphone’s sound chip to encode and decode audio signals in the SSB audio passband of the transceiver – similar to PC based modes like FT8 and JS8Call. It uses rates of transmission of 1.46, 5.86, 23.44 and 46.88 Baud. Modulation is 18-tone Incremental Frequency Shift Keying (IFSK) with forward error correcting Reed-Solomon code RS(15,7) and a superblock by 4 RS blocks with interleaving.” End quote.

This last bit is Greek to me, I’m afraid, but I gather your Android phone will send tones to your HF rig via some sort of small interface, by means of which you can effectively use digital modes on a non-digital radio and without a PC of any sort. And the message can be stored and forwarded at the receiving end for later attention. Not too shabby, Nige?!

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

HAMNET Report 25th July 2021

The Global Disaster Alert Coordination System is reporting on two tropical Cyclones threatening Japan and China this week.

Tropical Cyclone CEMPAKA, with wind speeds up to 140km/h was active in the North West Pacific, threatening more than 2 million people along the coast of China on Thursday. Twelve deaths had been reported and 100 000 people displaced in Zhengzhou City. The highest rainfall since record-keeping began, in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous region, caused two dams to collapse, affecting 16000 people.

This cyclone is causing heavy rains in the Northern half of the Philippines too. Adding to their misery, they weathered a magnitude 6.8 earthquake along their Western coastline on Friday at about 11pm our time. It occurred at a depth of 100km, but exposed nearly 13 million people to injury within a 100km radius. It comes as no surprise then that their prominent Taal volcano is at alert level 3, defined as “restive magmatic activities”, and that the volcano area measured 95 volcano earthquake activities on Friday. Nearly 15000 people have had to move away and take shelter elsewhere.

And Tropical Cyclone IN-FA, with wind speeds up to 176 km/h was bearing down on Japan and thereafter the coast of China, threatening 11.5 million people at much the same time. Red warnings were issued for high waves and moderate rainfall in the Ryukyu Islands in Southern Japan.

Severe weather was also reported in Pakistan and India, where monsoon rains caused flash floods, casualties and damage, as well as in Iran, where heavy rainfall has been experienced in the last week, causing flash flooding, casualties and damage to buildings. Search and rescue operations are ongoing. The same is true of the Indonesian part of the Island of Borneo, where 27000 people were affected, and 15000 buildings damaged by heavy rainfall since the 13th July, with more rain still to come.

And this is all over and above the devastation across Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland in the last week. The missing people of Germany are not all accounted for yet.

Meanwhile South Africa has had its coldest spell this winter so far, with 19 low temperature records in parts of the country surpassed on Thursday and Friday nights. You asked for snow this winter? You’ve got it!

The National Weather Service in the US plans to communicate the severity and potential impacts from severe thunderstorm wind and hail better by adding a “damage threat” tag to Severe Thunderstorm Warnings starting on July 28th, 2021. Severe Thunderstorms deemed “destructive” will activate a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) on smartphones, says Spencer Denton, writing in Action News 5.

Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) are short emergency messages from authorized federal, state, local, tribal and territorial public alerting authorities that can be broadcast from cell towers to any WEA‐enabled mobile device in a locally targeted area. Wireless providers primarily use cell broadcast technology for WEA message delivery. WEA is a partnership among FEMA, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and wireless providers to enhance public safety.

WEAs can be sent to your mobile device when you may be in harm’s way, without the need to download an app or subscribe to a service. WEAs are messages that warn the public of an impending natural or human-made disaster. The messages are short and can provide immediate, life-saving information.

HAMNET members in South Africa were treated to a very interesting lecture on a virtual platform, given by Peter Myers, of SmithMyersCommunications in Scotland, on Wednesday evening. Mr Myers described their “Artemis” system, which allows rescuers to poll any or specific cell phones that may be in a search area, and pinpoint their position, either by using their GPS transmissions, or by triangulation. Radio equipment installed in Leonardo rescue helicopters acts like a cell tower, which is recognized by cell phones of unresponsive victims after an accident or natural disaster, and responded to automatically by the cell phone. These pings trigger the system in the helicopter, which progressively narrows down the search area as it flies within 35km of the phone, until searchlights or infra-red cameras on the helicopter can spot the victim.

The system in the helicopter is used where there are few or no cell phone towers in the search area. In an urban area, there are enough cell towers usually to be able to pinpoint the location of a victim and his phone by triangulation without assistance.

So your smartphone will become your rescue aid, even if you are unable to speak to use it, for whatever reason, and this kind of technology, in an ideal world, should be fitted to all search and rescue aircraft initially and perhaps to sea rescue craft too.

The equipment shown in the lecture fits inside a medium Pelican case, and needs external antennas in the cell phone frequency bands.

Thank you to Ian ZS1OSK and Michael ZS1MJT for facilitating this talk on a virtual platform for us.

Those of you with the letters “CW” for Continuous Wave, or Morse Code, embossed on your hearts will be happy to hear that the Indian Express newspaper reports Police in Pune are keeping Morse code as a robust stand-by communications mode.

The report says that in the era of satellite communication, which involves transmitting signals into space and back, and internet based systems transferring gigabytes of data in a flash, police have kept alive the age-old system of Morse Code – a primitive but effective method of sending messages in the form of dots and dashes.

Every Sunday, an operator with Pune Police’s wireless wing sends a Morse Code message to the office of the Director General of Police, Maharashtra. While this is their way of paying tribute to one of the earliest modes of telecommunication, it is primarily a way of maintaining a robust stand-by mode of message delivery in case all other means of communication fail.

Pune City police have recently started a series of tweets featuring the communication systems used by the police and their evolution till date. On Sunday, Pune Police Commissioner Amitabh Gupta tweeted, “As an ode to the beginning of wireless communications, the Commissioner’s Office still uses Morse Code to transmit Messages every Sunday.”

This is news that gives one a good feeling, in a world and country full of drama, weather and illness. To borrow an expression: “May the Morse be with you!”

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

HAMNET Report 18th July 2021

India and Europe have both suffered severe rain storms this week, with flooding, destruction of houses, and some loss of life.

In India, on 12-13th July, heavy rain caused floods, mudslides and landslides in Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand (northern India), resulting in casualties.

In Himachal Pradesh, the Indian Disaster Management Division (NDMIndia) reports three fatalities, and up to eight people missing after a number of landslides occurred in Boh Valley and Kangra District. Search and rescue operations are still ongoing as national disaster response teams have been mobilized to the area. In addition, several houses have been damaged by floodwaters of the Manjhi River in Dharamshala City.

On 14-16th July, heavy to very heavy rain was forecast over Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

Greg Mossop G0DUB IARU Region One EmComm Coordinator has reported that unprecedented heavy rain caused widespread flooding in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands with over 120 deaths and hundreds more people unaccounted for. The rains which started on Wednesday caused rivers to burst their banks and the water converged into major rivers like the Meuse, Mosel and Rhine causing damage to bridges and other infrastructure such as power and telecommunications networks.

The Dutch Amateur Radio Emergency Service (DARES) was on standby from Wednesday evening as the first reports of flooding came in, with an initial attempt to establish a point to point link from the Provincial capital of Maastricht to the north of Limburg province; this was halted due to heavy traffic as citizens followed calls to evacuate low lying areas. DARES members were in contact with members of the Belgian Emergency Amateur Radio Service (B-EARS) to co-operate and co-ordinate their work.

The European Civil Protection mechanism was activated and emergency groups across the region reported their Governments sending extra assistance and supplies to the areas where damage was worst. The surge in flood water was continuing to make its way North leading to further evacuations and the Radio Amateur Emergency groups started to get more focused requests with B-EARS being asked to provide a backup VHF link between the emergency call centre in Brussels and the province of Hainaut through Friday while DARES had four stations active in the Limburg area ready to respond if an issue occurred.

The most loss of life and damage has occurred in Germany where over 1000 people remain unaccounted for and the loss of mobile networks has slowed the effort to locate people while many others are without power or homes. The emergency communications unit of the DARC is handling enquiries for amateur radio support in the worst hit areas but this is not always easy to achieve as members in the area have been directly affected losing equipment or their homes.

Emergency communications groups in the affected, and surrounding countries, are ready to respond to requests made and are working well together, co-ordinating their response as needed. This emergency will last for some time as infrastructure is repaired and the threat from damaged dams and more rainfall is reducing.

In the light of this week’s civil unrest in this country, it is appropriate to mention that, over the past three decades, there has been significant growth in the body of research into the effects of relative overexposure to news, particularly negative news. And the past 18 months since the onset of the Covid pandemic, as well as varying levels of civil unrest have resulted in further studies looking at that impact in an era where society has even more exposure, due to a combination of the 24-hour television news cycle, and the doom-scrolling of news and images on social media.

According to one such study, published in November 2020, authored by professors from the Universities of Arkansas and Purdue in the US,  “psychological distress may impede a person’s ability to cope with the many life changes Covid-19 has required, such as fewer social interactions and physical distancing or quarantining. Additionally, work productivity or caregiving needs may be neglected when psychological distress is present… there is also a need to empirically examine the social conditions relating to the pandemic, such as increased news coverage and news consumption that may be related to increased psychological distress.”

They continue: “During times of stress, pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in healthy activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly, keep regular sleep routines and eat healthy food. Keep things in perspective.” Admittedly, there is no denying that such advice may bear resonance only for those who are not directly affected. A regular exercise and sleep routine is not a simple matter for residents living in townships and suburbs that are directly affected by violence and looting.

However, beyond the thought-out articles published by reputable news sources, the studies suggest that it is important to develop a personal strategy with regards to the consumption of the constant loop of violent imagery, especially on social media. Perhaps as per the World Health Organization’s guideline on Covid related news, “seek information only from trusted sources…Seek information updates at specific times [only] during the day, once or twice.”

Thank you to Malibongwe Tyilo and Maverick Life for these excerpts from his article.

Finally, according to Phys.org on Friday, the Hubble Space Telescope should be back in action soon, following a tricky, remote repair job by NASA.

The orbiting observatory went dark in mid-June, with all astronomical viewing halted.

NASA initially suspected a 1980s-era computer as the source of the problem. But after the backup payload computer also failed, flight controllers at Maryland’s Goddard Space Flight Centre focused on the science instruments’ bigger and more encompassing command and data unit, installed by spacewalking astronauts in 2009.

Engineers successfully switched back to the previous backup equipment on Thursday, and the crucial payload computer kicked in. NASA said on Friday that science observations should resume quickly, if everything goes well.

Launched in 1990, Hubble has made more than 1.5 million observations of the universe. NASA launched five repair missions to the telescope during the space shuttle program. The final tune-up was in 2009.

NASA plans to launch Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, by year’s end.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world’s premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency.

I wonder how many people know who James Webb was..

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

HAMNET Report 11th July 2021

Southgate Amateur Radio News reports that Australia’s ABC News has an excellent article on the benefits of amateur radio in old age – which says:

[Amateur Radio] comes with all the benefits of social media but without ‘any of the downsides’ — and one of Australia’s oldest ham radio enthusiasts says it is also the perfect hobby for retirees looking to stay mentally sharp.

West Australian-based Norman Gomm took to ham radio over forty years ago and now aged 82 has no intention of signing off just yet.

As one of Australia’s estimated 10,500 licensed ham radio operators, Mr Gomm is also the president of the Bunbury Radio Club. He says it is rare that a day goes by without him spending at least a couple of hours in his purpose-built ‘ham shack’.

“I find it’s very good for me,” Mr Gomm told the ABC amid a dazzling display of flashing lights and crackling radio static. “I’m 82 years of age and you need to keep your mind working actively all the time,” he said.

“Ham radio requires a lot of cognitive skills and a lot of understanding technology, so I find that’s very good for keeping me active.”

Operating under the call sign of Victor Kilo Six Golf Oscar Mike, Mr Gomm is able to converse with fellow ham radio enthusiasts “in just about any country on earth” depending on the time of day using an internationally recognised phonetic alphabet.

“We’re bound by regulation not to say naughty things over the radio waves. and we have a code of conduct which makes us behave relatively politely to each other,” Mr Gomm said. “It’s just a general ethic among ham radio people that you behave well to each other. “So it’s got all the plusses of social media and none of the downsides.”

And the topic mostly discussed among ham radio operators? “The weather mainly,” Mr Gomm said, with a dry laugh.

“On the international frequencies, the conversation tends to be a bit limited so we stick to topics like the weather and discussing equipment, but the thrill of it lies in making contact with someone on the other side of the planet.”

Thanks to Graham VK4BB for that information.

For those of you obsessed, like me, with time and its progression, ScienceNews reports this week that an atomic clock that could transform deep-space travel has successfully completed its first test run in space.

NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock, which launched on a satellite in June 2019, outperformed all other clocks in space during its first year in orbit around Earth. The clock, DSAC for short, was at least 10 times more stable than clocks on GPS satellites, which makes it reliable enough for futuristic space navigation schemes, researchers report online June 30th in Nature.

To navigate the solar system today, space probes listen for signals from antennas on Earth and then bounce those signals back. Ultraprecise, refrigerator-sized atomic clocks on the ground measure that round trip time — which can take hours — to pinpoint a spacecraft’s location.

A future spacecraft carrying a toaster oven–sized DSAC could simply measure how long it takes a signal from Earth to arrive and calculate its own position. Untethering deep-space navigation from Earth could someday enable self-driving spaceships or GPS-like navigation systems on other planets.

DSAC is so stable because it keeps time using electrically charged atoms, or ions, rather than neutral atoms, says Eric Burt, a physicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Bottling ions within electric fields prevents those atoms from bumping into the walls of their container. Such interactions cause the neutral atoms in GPS satellite clocks to lose their rhythm.

By comparing DSAC with the U.S. Naval Observatory’s hydrogen maser “master clock” on the ground, the researchers found that the space clock drifted about 26 picoseconds, or trillionths of a second, over the course of a day. That’s comparable to ground-based atomic clocks currently used for deep-space navigation, says DSAC principal investigator Todd Ely, also at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Reporting on how science museums reinvented themselves to survive the pandemic, Emily Anthes says that, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to spiral out of control in March 2020, science museums around the world were abruptly forced to close. In a matter of days, ticket revenue vanished. “It was an existential crisis,” says Christofer Nelson, president and CEO of the Association of Science and Technology Centres, or ASTC, in Washington, D.C. “The fundamental business, operational, staffing, and community service model of these organizations just went away overnight. And the question was ‘What do we do next?’ ”

The weeks and months that followed were excruciatingly difficult for science museums, which lost more than $600 million in revenue in just the first six months of the pandemic, the ASTC estimates. Many museums and science centres were forced to adopt deep cost-cutting measures; some laying off more than half of their employees.

Few science museums had substantial endowments to pull from, so they scrambled for support. They launched new campaigns for donations, applied for government loans and sought grants and support from community organizations or corporations.

As they tried to make ends meet, they also realized they had to reinvent their programmes if they wanted to survive. Over the last year, they have launched a diverse array of exhibits and offerings that are not tied to their physical buildings, and they have helped educate the public about COVID-19. Some museums have even found creative ways to meet serious community needs, providing everything from child care to fresh food.

Along the way, these institutions have redefined what modern science museums can be and how they engage with the world beyond their walls. Though many museums are in various phases of reopening, their experience over the last year may leave a lasting legacy.

Emily goes on to describe a wide variety of ways in which museums have taken themselves to the public, rather than the other way round, in an effort to keep themselves relevant, and to guarantee a future, a future when we hope there will be no more levels of lockdown and social isolation.

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