Hamnet Report 16th May 2021

As if India is not currently suffering the worst wave of Covid infections in its history, it is also being threatened by Tropical Cyclone Tauktae-21, which is sliding up India’s western coastline. It was first identified on Friday afternoon as being potentially dangerous, and, at present, GDACS reports 4.1 million people as being in its 120 km/h path, and another 44.5 million people as being affected by its surrounding tropical depression.

Projections call for it to proceed in a generally northerly direction, parallel to India’s coastline, and finally coming ashore just south-east of India’s border with Pakistan on Tuesday morning their time. Wind-speeds are forecast to increase to 200km/h between now and Tuesday. We must hope that the storm remains offshore for as long as possible. India does not need, or deserve, to be battered by another disaster, as it reels from the effects of 300 to 400 000 new Covid-19 cases a day.

Writing on the Express.co.uk website, Oliver Pritchard-Jones says there is new hope for the discovery of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 after an expert claimed amateur radio sleuths could solve the mystery.

The Boeing 777 plane vanished with 238 passengers and crew on board on March 8, 2014, after setting off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing, China. Aerospace engineer Richard Godfrey recently published a study on how to interpret data about the plane’s final movements.

Using a process called Weak Signal Propagation Reporter (WSPR), it works by reconstructing its flightpath by analysing disturbances to radio reception at the time it went missing. Mr Godfrey explained radio signals acted like invisible “tripwires” in the sky. He said his theory that the pilot of the doomed flight deliberately tried to avoid detection was now a “working hypothesis” thanks to the technique.

The data revealed the plane turned multiple times as though to shake off aircraft tracking technology before plummeting into the southern Indian Ocean, he said.

Mr Godfrey, who is investigating the crash with the so-called Independent Group of Scientists, indicated the plane’s flight path was “significantly different” from earlier theories based on satellite data.

He claimed pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah took a series of turns and alternated the speed of the MH370 to leave “false trails” on unofficial routes while avoiding commercial flight routes.

Airlineratings.com quoted Mr Godfrey saying: “I would no longer characterise the track in the new paper as speculative but a working hypothesis.

“The MH370 flight path I have proposed is a hypothesis supported by a body of evidence in the form of a large number of position and progress indicators.

“The working hypothesis will remain valid until someone proves it wrong by presenting evidence that this flight path was not followed.

“One possibility would be the publication of raw radar data for example.”

Mr Godfrey previously said: “WSPR is like a bunch of tripwires or laser beams, but they work in every direction over the horizon to the other side of the globe.

“The pilot of MH370 generally avoided official flight routes from 18:00 UTC onwards but used waypoints to navigate on unofficial flight paths in the Malacca Strait, around Sumatra and across the Southern Indian Ocean.”

He added: “The flight path follows the coast of Sumatra and flies close to Banda Aceh Airport.” Close quote.

Whatever plans the pilot of the doomed aircraft seems to have had, appear to have been doomed, possibly by the aircraft running out of fuel, and having to ditch at sea, probably breaking up on impact, and sinking without leaving any local trace.

You may remember that pieces of aircraft wing identified as belonging to the aircraft, washed up on beaches on the East side of the Indian ocean several months later, but of course did nothing to prove exactly where the aircraft’s final resting place is.

However, WSPR technology may provide sufficient proof to allow an accurate search in the correct area to be made, and finally discover the truth regarding the flight.

In research made possible when COVID-19 side-lined other research projects, scientists at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine meticulously counted brain cells in fruit flies and three species of mosquitos, revealing a number that would surprise many people outside the science world.

The insects’ tiny brains, on average, have about 200,000 neurons and other cells, they say. By comparison, a human brain has 86 billion neurons, and a rodent brain contains about 12 billion. The figure probably represents a “floor” for the number needed to perform the bugs’ complex behaviours.

“Even though these brains are simple [in contrast to mammalian brains], they can do a lot of processing, even more than a supercomputer,” says Christopher Potter, Ph.D., associate professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “They enable the insects to navigate, find food and perform other complicated tasks at the same time, and our study offers one answer to the question of how many brain cells come together to conduct these behaviours,” Potter adds.

Results of the research are summarized on May 14 in PLOS ONE.

Those who study insect behaviour and brain function have long suspected these insects must have hundreds of thousands of brain cells, says Potter, but when he and postdoctoral fellow Joshua Raji, Ph.D., followed chains of scientific papers that referenced the count, they did not find proof for it.

In response, they report, they set out to find proof using a relatively simple counting method called an isotropic fractionator, a technique familiar to pathologists when they tally the number of any type of cell in a tissue.

Potter says that researchers have determined the number of brain cells in only a few species of insects, including wasps and ants. “It would be interesting to apply this approach to social insects like bees, and see if there are differences between queens and drones,” he says.

The most challenging part of the technique, says Potter, was the microdissection of a brain that is smaller than the tip of a pencil. “It takes a really steady hand and lots of practice,” he says.

What he didn’t say was whether the brain of the average radio amateur has as many brain cells as the average fruit fly, and I suppose we may never know..

Thanks to Phys.org for this enlightening item of news.

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

HAMNET Report 9th May 2021

The Southern Cape has been battered by extremely heavy rain, strong winds and high seas since Wednesday, and only by Friday was a state of normalcy starting to return.

IOL reported that residents were evacuated from their homes after heavy floods in some parts of L’Agulhas, Struisbaai, and Struisbaai North on Wednesday. Rescue teams were deployed to the area, including Disaster Management, a statement from the Overberg District Municipality said.

Heavy rain that was initially predicted to reach 45mm, actually reached from 60mm to 100mm in mountainous areas. The weather bureau warned that the rainfall would be accompanied by thunderstorms and hail. Videos and pictures were posted to social media of flooded homes, hail the size of golf balls, and a crew from Cape Agulhas municipality on a small fishing boat helping to evacuate residents.

An orange level 6 warning was issued in the Overberg area, with an urgent note of danger to life due to fast flowing streams.

Residents in the Cape Winelands, City of Cape Town and Hessequa Municipality were also issued an orange level 4 warning, with possible flooding.

Social media were awash, if you’ll pardon the expression, with videos of water flooding streets, racing through gardens, getting rivers that had been dry for up to 7 years flowing again, and the NSRI operating on land, helping to rescue stranded families on farms!

Dam catchment areas in the mountains had huge amounts of rain, and, apart from the effect of filling all dams and reservoirs in the area, ground water has been restocked.

The Airforce was asked to be on standby to help rescue stranded groups of people, but so far, it seems that ground forces were adequate to the task.

At this stage it seems that 2 pairs of travellers in two vehicles lost their lives, being washed away in raging floodwater.

The Cape Winter has been late in starting, but has now started with a vengeance!

In these times of multiple simultaneous disasters taking place, I have had my attention drawn again to the plight of the disabled during disasters. There are many types and degrees of disability, but the one I wish to concentrate on here is the disability of being unable to hear – i.e. deafness.

Deafness has been described as the invisible disability, because it is not obvious that a person is deaf. Deafness prevents a person from having his/her attention drawn easily to a disaster broadcast of any sort.

Reporting in theconversation.com, Nick Craig and Julia Allen note that deaf people are highly vulnerable to disaster risk, but tend to be excluded from programs aimed at boosting preparedness and resilience.

I quote:

“Our study, published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, examined the challenges the New South Wales Deaf community faces in accessing the support they need to effectively respond to disaster risk.

“Our research showed that deaf people are vulnerable to disasters for various reasons, including low disaster awareness and preparedness, poor knowledge of emergency services roles and responsibilities, and dependency on family and friends for help.

“Communication issues are the biggest barrier, because deaf people have limited access to disaster information in sign language, in plain English or in pictorial form, emergency messages are usually communicated via TV and radio, door-to-door messaging, loudspeaker alerts and social media which are either audio in form or too complicated for many deaf people to understand, and emergency personnel and emergency shelter staff can find it hard to communicate with deaf people due to language barriers.

“Consequently, deaf people are frequently unaware of evacuation shelter locations, unsure of whom and how to ask for help, and more likely to return to unsafe homes and conditions.

“This marginalises them further and increases vulnerability. They also have difficulties in getting information on how to access recovery resources. Good communication requires trust between everyone involved but deaf peoples’ trust in the emergency services has been low due to past bad experiences.

“Deaf people reported that emergency services personnel were often uncomfortable communicating with them directly and lack the patience to use non-verbal communication methods.” End quote.

Thanks to the authors for the use of their report.

In my 4 decades of observing the human species, I have come to the realisation that to be deaf is worse than to be blind. I maintain that blindness robs you of your possessions, but deafness robs you of your friends. To be deaf makes you alone amongst a crowd. The conversation and interaction can go on around you, but you can’t take part. And non-disabled people are more tolerant of the blind, with whom they can communicate, than of the deaf, because they have to shout to make themselves understood, or repeat their message many times.

And, of course, deafness would rob us of the hobby of Ham Radio, an intolerable disability. EXCEPT for digital modes of radio communication, which still allow us to “chew the rag” with our fellow amateurs, and make our volunteerism in emergency communications still possible. This fact alone levels the playing field, so to speak, for all deaf people to continue to practice this hobby.

And it is the digital mode on the cell phone (that is, messaging of one sort or another) which has revolutionized life for deaf people in all walks of life. To message, to be warned, to attract someone’s attention, or be made aware of someone’s desire to communicate with you when you are deaf, is actually the greatest advance in smart phone evolution over the last 2 decades.

I think that being robbed of all exposure to music must surely be the most crippling loss to a deaf person.

So be kind to your deaf relative or friend, help them acquire the most sophisticated hearing aid they can afford, be tolerant of their loud voices because they can’t hear themselves speak, try to learn sign language if you live closely with them, teach them how to use a cell-phone effectively to reduce the loneliness, and use your skill in electronics to devise means to make their soundless life manageable, such as a doorbell that causes a light to flash.

Finally, one line to draw your attention to the signs that a third wave of the Coronavirus illness is just beginning in some of our provinces. Please remember the truism: “It’s not over for any of us, until it’s over for all of us”!

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

HAMNET Report 2nd May 2021

Authorities in the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius issued a disaster alert on Wednesday after heavy rains caused severe flooding making roads impassable to pedestrians and vehicles.

State-owned Vacoas weather station issued the alert and warned of impassable roads, thunderstorms and floods from torrential rains.

“Rainfall reached about 170 mm in the previous 24 hours, while thunder continued to rumble on the side of Plaines-Wilhems,” it said.

The warning noted that ”the atmosphere remains unstable over Mauritius and after a brief lull, very active clouds coming from the east will begin to influence the weather again. There will also be thunderstorms. Accumulations of floodwater have also been noted in the south, east and on the central plateau.”

Due to the unpredictable weather patterns, meteorologists from the Vacoas weather station told reporters they are not certain when the alert will be lifted.

Water sources, including rivers, have been polluted by the uncontrollable increase of rainwater and the water supply is irregular in several places in the east of the country due to the accumulation of mud in the rivers.

Invercargill Police SAR Coordinator Sergeant Ian Martin reports that a Southland hunter was found after spending multiple hours lost in the cold in the Hokonui Hills last week.

Gore Police and Eastern Southland Land Search and Rescue team were alerted to the lost hunter on 21 April, after he used his mobile phone to raise the alarm with his wife, who in turn notified Police at about 6.30pm. Police were able to determine the man’s location by getting him to make a 111 call from his mobile phone.

Ten Eastern Southland LandSAR volunteers assisted and Amateur Radio Emergency Communications volunteers also responded to the call-out. Three search teams walked through the area near Dolamore Park. The hunter was located at about 10.30pm; four hours after staff were first notified.

He was feeling the cold, but otherwise in good health, and very lucky, as he had very little food and insufficient gear to spend the night in the bush.

The ARRL Newsletter this week also reports on a Ham Radio Rescue scenario.

A back-country hiker was rescued from Great Smoky Mountains National Park with assistance from amateur radio after she became exhausted on the trail and possibly dehydrated. A member of the hiking group on the park’s Little River Trail, Tim Luttrell, KA9EBJ, put out a call on the evening of April 11 via the W4KEV linked VHF repeater in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, requesting assistance in extricating the injured member. No cell phone service was available at the location, and Luttrell’s signal was spotty at times, owing to the mountainous terrain.

Responding was David Manuel, W5DJR, who obtained more information and called 911, which routed the call to Great Smoky Mountains National Park Emergency Medical Service (GSMNP EMS). The national park EMS relayed through Manuel a request for the group to continue down the trail as far as possible to shorten the rescue time.

A medic with the Park Service search-and-rescue team subsequently reached Manuel by telephone, who served to relay questions to Luttrell. Manuel contacted members of the hiker’s family after Luttrell provided contact numbers. Manuel was asked to relay information for the family to arrange to meet in Cherokee, North Carolina, and be prepared to transport the distressed hiker’s vehicle to her home.

Manuel got a call from Luttrell indicating “all clear” shortly after 2 AM.

The injured hiker was hospitalized and required surgery and rehabilitation. ARRL Tennessee Section Manager Dave Thomas, KM4NYI, told ARRL that he’d learned another hiker in the same group was close to hypothermia by the time they were rescued.

Powerline (PLC) devices have been a problem for amateur radio for years due to the RF Pollution they can produce. Now DARC reports a large scale plan for PLC.

Southgate Amateur Radio News says the Japanese electronics group Panasonic is currently planning a breakthrough in large-scale applications and in private business.

As Heise Online reports, Panasonic wants to manufacture chips e.g. for street lamps and household appliances that can be networked via power lines. The range of the power line data network should be able to be extended to up to ten kilometres.

According to the Japanese plan, one billion chips are to be produced by 2030. Elevators, offices and apartments as well as new sensors could then be networked without additional cabling. Electricity companies could also use the technology efficiently to read smart electricity meters remotely.

My heart sinks at the thought of the amount of litigation that will be necessary to help fight this degree of RF pollution.

For those of you using, or interested in DMR (Digital Mobile Radio), Allan ZS1AL and Danie ZS1OSS have created a dedicated HAMNET Western Cape Talk Group 6550087, which should work for all DMR operators using the Bottelaryberg or Helderberg DMR repeaters in Cape Town, as well as countrywide. Most operators in South Africa monitor Talk Group 655, so it is suggested you call on 655, and then move to 6550087 for further comms.

Thanks to Allan and Danie!

If you’ve felt isolated and lonely sometimes during the Covid-19 pandemic, spare a thought for Astronaut Michael Collins who stayed behind in the Apollo 11 Columbia Command Module, while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in 1969.

Once the lander had left Columbia, Collins orbited the moon on his own, and when on the far side of the moon, was totally isolated, and cut off from all humanity, with no means of contacting anybody, and the furthest humans had ever travelled from Earth. Collins later joked he was “glad to get behind the moon so Mission Control would shut up!”

He also said he remembered very little of the moon, but was struck by the view of the Earth, a tiny, shiny, blue sky’d and watered planet, white of cloud, with only a trace of brown land, all of which he described as “fragile”.

I think we can agree our Earth has become more fragile since he made those remarks. Michael Collins died this week, aged 90, the dimly remembered third crew-member of Apollo 11.

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

HAMNET Report 25th April 2021

Prnewswire.com reports that, in celebration of World Amateur Radio Day on April 18, Maglite and the ARRL have announced they have formed a partnership based on the common mission of helping people be prepared for emergencies and to serve their communities in extreme situations such as natural disasters. ARRL member-volunteers provide public service through the ARRL Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES®), and by expanding the reservoir of trained operators and technicians in radio communications and radio technology. Mag Instrument is the leading maker of U.S.-manufactured high-quality flashlights that have a deserved reputation for performance, reliability and durability.

“Amateur radio operators, help people in times of difficulty, often by supporting emergency communications when critical infrastructure is damaged, and by responding to the needs of first responders to keep connected,” said Anthony Maglica, Founder, Owner and CEO of MAG Instrument Inc. “We manufacture a product that has been used in public safety for over 40 years and we are very supportive of the incredible dedication of radio amateurs, so culturally this is a great alliance for both brands.”

Maglite is the preferred flashlight brand of many police, fire and other first responder organizations and is the official flashlight of NASAR – the National Association of Search and Rescue. The partnership with ARRL will entail Mag Instrument creating special laser engraved Maglite® products for ARRL as well as offering their members special pricing on a select line of Maglite products, and in turn, those purchases raise funds for ARRL to support their mission.

“ARRL is delighted that Maglite recognizes the service and skill of ARRL members. This partnership will help us introduce amateur radio to more people,” says David Minster, NA2AA, ARRL CEO.

Greg Mossop G0DUB has asked the IARU Region 1 countries’ Emcomm leaders to consider a test using QO-100 geostationary satellite on 9th May at 08h00 UTC. He says he has one or possibly two stations in the UK interested in trying the satellite for region wide communications and in earlier conversations he realised that some Emcomm operators have the capability or are already using the satellite for routine nets.

Greg issued the request on Thursday and has, so far, received expressions of interest from Slovenia, the Netherlands, South Africa, Malta and Slovakia. I’m sure more will join in the next 10 days. The next Region 1 Emergency Communications Co-ordinator’s meeting is scheduled for May the 15th from 14h00 UTC.

Meanwhile, Grant Southey ZS1GS, National HAMNET Director has reminded us to keep away from 7.188MHz, which is being used by the Caribbean Emergency and Weather Net (CEWN) to provide round-the-clock coverage during the La Soufriere volcanic eruption on the island of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Several neighbouring islands are also being affected by the disaster. When responding to disasters and emergencies such as this, the CEWN utilizes 3.815 MHz LSB and 7.188 MHz LSB. CEWN is requesting that radio amateurs not involved in the volcano response keep these frequencies clear.

Naturally, 3.815 MHz is not within South Africa’s 80m band-plan, so you may listen but you may not transmit on that frequency.

There is a Tropical Cyclone side-swiping the Philippines as I write this, called SURIGAE, affecting the eastern coast of central and northern Philippines, resulting in four fatalities and 13 injured people, as reported by national authorities on 22 April. More than 235,750 people have been affected across Cagayan Valley, Bicol, Eastern Visayas and Caraga Regions. It is expected to weaken, as it moves eastwards over the Philippine Sea, south of Yaeyama and Okinawa Islands in southern Japan. There has not been much news coverage, although the cyclone has been active South and South-east of the Philippines for almost a week now.

A useful hobby and the keen and practiced eye of ARRL member Ben Kuo, AI6YR, helped to guide rescuers to a hiker stranded on a mountainside on April 12. Hiker Rene Compean, 45, had spent the night in a remote region of the Angeles National Forest after getting in a tough spot. After a concerned friend reported Compean missing on Monday, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department dispatched search-and-rescue (SAR) teams. Although amateur radio played no direct role in the rescue, Kuo cited his enthusiasm for technology and ham radio satellites, and for Summits on the Air (SOTA), for helping him to develop the skills he needed to guide searchers to the most appropriate area.

Kuo told the Los Angeles Times that he has an odd hobby of looking at photos and determining where they had been taken. He was able to employ his skill to determine the hiker’s likely location using a tiny photo the hiker posted on Twitter that shows his legs and the valley below. As the newspaper reported on April 15, “When [Kuo] saw the photo posted by the Sheriff’s Department, he set to work pulling publicly available satellite images and matching them to the vegetation and terrain below the hiker’s legs.”

Kuo’s eye was good. He sent authorities the GPS coordinates of the most likely area, and the rescue team found Compean less than a mile from that location.

As the LA Times reported, the area where Compean was, was located on steep slopes and very difficult to access, requiring advanced climbing skills. The Sheriff’s Department credited Kuo with saving them hours of fruitless searching. Kuo said this was the first time he’d been involved in a rescue like this one.

And, from Kuo’s own experience of Summits on the Air, he also knew that cell phone reception was poor in the area where SAR teams had been deployed, and that the twitter messages coming from the hiker were not coming from that area. His SOTA experience and practice at locality identification from photo evidence and satellite images resulted in a far quicker rescue of the stranded hiker.

Thanks to the ARRL newsletter of 22nd April for that story.

Like other UCT graduates in this country, I have been mourning the huge losses, both intellectual and financial, incurred during last Sunday’s wildfire. While not personally affected, the thought that so many valuable collections of so much personal work, study, research and publication have been lost in the fire makes my heart ache.

However I was encouraged to read that the fire response crews have used thermal cameras on the ground and from the air to pick up hotspots as small as a R5 coin on or under the ground, to be able to extinguish them before they flared up and started further fires. That’s good use of technology for you!

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

HAMNET Report 18th April 2021

In a message to the Emergency Communications groups around IARU Region 1, on Monday the 12th, Greg Mossop conveyed his thanks to everyone who took part in Sunday’s exercise on JS8call. There had only been a few countries interested when it was discussed on the last conference call, so getting 17 countries listed to take part and putting 40+ stations into 2.5kHz of spectrum was a good show of interest and certainly challenged the mode for performance.

If it had gone perfectly there would have been no point in doing it so Greg was expecting comments from all. He said he would be interested in how many stations we were able to send short messages to and how many formal messages were sent if possible as well as for any messages received.

He is not intending to review all logs as this was intended as an enthusiasm and awareness raising test rather than a formal exercise with control stations etc. but some numbers will help to see if there is an improvement in future.

He already has some observations on message handling and the organisation of the event as well as the good comments about timing of exercises which we will talk about at our next teleconference in May.

In other reports from regional EmCor chiefs, Jul 6W1QL in Senegal, who had not formally registered to take part, found 40m challenging because of interference, but had more success on 20m, in spite of Senegal’s inexperience with the mode.

Jan, PA0NON in the Netherlands, reported many many contacts, but found the band too crowded, and suggested future exercises take place on another 40m frequency to avoid QRM from regular users of the mode.

From Stan OM8ST in the Slovak Republic, we learnt that few amateurs in that country took part, mainly because they were finding the technology difficult to master, and he reports that Slovak amateurs are not very interested in digital modes. He personally learned a lot from the exercise, so his eyes were opened to the mode.

John EI7IG in Ireland found auto responses by some stations he was trying to message blocked attempts to get the messages through, and felt a more structured approach to message passing was probably necessary. John struggled to separate stations taking part in the exercise from regular stations just using the frequency, and basically agreed with Jan’s observation that a different frequency should be used for exercises in future.

Grant ZS1GS in South Africa, reported that band conditions prevented our involvement in DX messaging on 40m, but noted that signals were easily decoded from most parts of South Africa on 40m, between 2 and 5pm, but that DX only opened up after 5pm, after the exercise was over, and then only on 20m. However, he thanked all South African participants for doing their best to be heard in other parts of IARU Region one.

Now, for some real disaster comms, we hear from Donald de Riggs, J88CD on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, who says that on April 13, the 42nd anniversary of the 1979 eruption of the La Soufrière volcano, island residents were awakened to another column of volcanic ash creating a thick blanket obscuring part of the eastern sky as the volcano continues to erupt violently.

“Almost all residents in the Red Zone have been evacuated, save for a few diehards who will not move, for reasons unknown,” he said.

Since the effusive eruption began last December, local hams have been in a state of readiness via 2-meter networks and regional networks via HF. A 24-hour regional HF network and vigil has been active since violent eruptions resumed earlier this month to provide communication support should [the] telephone service be disrupted by the volcanic hazard. This includes a twice-daily link-up on HF with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). There is also a 2-meter gateway via EchoLink on the J88AZ node. The other active VHF repeater is the main resource for domestic communications.

The Grenada repeater, which is linked to St. Lucia and Barbados, is also accessible by hams in Tobago, Trinidad, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Frequencies being used for disaster-related communications may include 3.815, 7.188, or 7.162 MHz. Volcanic ash is also falling in Barbados, Dominica, St. Lucia, and Grenada.

The La Soufrière volcano on St. Vincent began its most recent series of explosive eruptions on April 9, sending clouds of hot ash some 20,000 feet into the air, blanketing much of the island in ash and causing water and power outages. The volcano is “a constant threat,” according to CDEMA.

A 5-year, $9.3 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant will allow the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Geophysical Institute to establish a new research observatory at the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP). A former military facility, HAARP is now operated by UAF and is home to HAARP Amateur Radio Club’s KL7ERP. The new Subauroral Geophysical Observatory for Space Physics and Radio Science will be dedicated to exploring Earth’s upper atmosphere and geospace environment. The facility’s 33-acre Ionospheric Research Instrument will be the centrepiece of the observatory.

“This NSF support will provide the scientific community increased access to the instruments at the observatory and, hopefully, grow the scientific community,” said Geophysical Institute Director Robert McCoy, the project’s principal investigator.

A second NSF-funded project will add a Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) instrument at the site, which will allow the study of other regions of the upper atmosphere. UAF hopes to add additional instruments over time at the Gakona, Alaska, research site.

The research grant will allow scientists to investigate how the sun affects Earth’s ionosphere and magnetosphere to produce changes in space weather. Their work will help fill gaps in knowledge about the region, which is important because ionospheric disturbances, if severe enough, can disrupt communication systems and damage the power grid.

Research at the observatory is initially expected to include the study of various types of aurora and other occurrences in the ionosphere..

“Amateur radio will clearly benefit with an improved understanding of ionospheric propagation and space weather physics, and providing improved HF propagation prediction modelling data,” HAARP Research Station Chief Engineer and ARRL Life Member Steve Floyd, W4YHD, told ARRL. He said, “Radio science experiments will also provide a valuable data set to encourage development of new radio technologies and modulation methods.”

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

HAMNET Report 11th April 2021

ScienceDaily says Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and collaborators have demonstrated an atom-based sensor that can determine the direction of an incoming radio signal, another key part for a potential atomic communications system that could be smaller and work better in noisy environments than conventional technology.

NIST researchers previously demonstrated that the same atom-based sensors can receive commonly used communications signals. The capability to measure a signal’s “angle of arrival” helps ensure the accuracy of radar and wireless communications, which need to sort out real messages and images from random or deliberate interference.

“This new work, in conjunction with our previous work on atom-based sensors and receivers, gets us one step closer to a true atom-based communication system to benefit 5G and beyond,” project leader Chris Holloway said.

In NIST’s experimental setup, two different-coloured lasers prepare gaseous Caesium atoms in a tiny glass flask, or cell, in high-energy (“Rydberg“) states, which have novel properties such as extreme sensitivity to electromagnetic fields. The frequency of an electric field signal affects the colours of light absorbed by the atoms.

An atom-based “mixer” takes input signals and converts them into different frequencies. One signal acts as a reference while a second signal is converted or “detuned” to a lower frequency. Lasers probe the atoms to detect and measure differences in frequency and phase between the two signals. Phase refers to the position of electromagnetic waves relative to one another in time.

The mixer measures the phase of the detuned signal at two different locations inside the atomic vapour cell. Based on the phase differences at these two locations, researchers can calculate the signal’s direction of arrival.

To demonstrate this approach, NIST measured phase differences of a 19.18 gigahertz experimental signal at two locations inside the vapour cell for various angles of arrival. Researchers compared these measurements to both a simulation and a theoretical model to validate the new method. The selected transmission frequency could be used in future wireless communications systems, Holloway said.

With further development, atom-based radio receivers may offer many benefits over conventional technologies. For example, there is no need for traditional electronics that convert signals to different frequencies for delivery because the atoms do the job automatically. The antennas and receivers can be physically smaller, with micrometre-scale dimensions. In addition, atom-based systems may be less susceptible to some types of interference and noise.

So your future radio receiver might have two lasers embedded in it, and a vapour cell, be able to receive the transmitted signal, and tell you which direction it came from. Impressive indeed!

I watched the pre-flight press briefing for Mars Ingenuity helicopter on Friday night, and the excitement in the demeanours of the group being interviewed was palpable. No earlier than Monday morning (tomorrow) at 09h30 Central African Time, Ingenuity will be programmed to spin up its rotors to 2500 rpm, and attempt to fly up to an altitude of 3 metres, hover there for 30 seconds and then return gently to the ground. It will be observed from a distance of about 60 metres by Perseverance, taking pre-programmed 2.5 second vignettes of it doing so, hopefully to catch some part of the flight, for immediate download to earth. Far more importantly, all the technical data of the flight will be downloaded  as quickly as possible, so engineers can study all the recorded parameters, to see if it behaved as expected, or developed flight anomalies impossible to predict before the time.

If successful, this flight will be the first flight off a planet’s surface since the Wright brothers managed to do it on Earth on 17th December 1903, so these special events don’t come round very often!

If you are near an internet connection, watch the event live tomorrow morning from 09h30 our time, as nasa.gov/nasalive streams it, or download the NASA app on all the usual platforms, or watch it on YouTube or FaceBook channels. There may not be much to see, but history is being made, so try to be a part of it!

Now for the computer gamers amongst us, MedicalExpress reports that Elon Musk’s Neuralink start-up has managed to get a Macaque monkey called Pager to play the video game called Pong, using thought only.

The monkey, with electrodes implanted on both sides of his brain, was monitored while he played Pong with a joystick, so that researchers could learn how to interpret his brain waves while he controlled the joystick. A banana-smoothie through a straw was used to reward him for his successful actions.

Then the joystick was removed, and he was given the game scene on the screen to contemplate, and he was able to move the paddles using only brain-wave monitoring and no physical activity on his part. He became amazingly good at MindPong by thought association!

[Note two things: firstly this was a male monkey, and secondly he was satisfied with the relatively insignificant reward of a banana smoothie. I think all the women in the world will snort and speculate that all men are more closely related to monkeys than they are!]

However, the researchers suggest that the decoder in the computer software could be calibrated to enable a person to guide a cursor on a computer screen, potentially letting them type emails, text messages, or browse the internet just by thinking, according to a blog post at neuralink.com.

“Our first goal is to give people with paralysis their digital freedom back,” the Neuralink team said in the post.

Members of the team last year shared a “wish list” that ranged from technology returning mobility to the paralyzed and sight to the blind, to enabling telepathy and the uploading of memories for later reference—or perhaps to be downloaded into replacement bodies.

For now, Neuralink is being tested in animals with the team working on the potential for clinical trials.

I’m sure even the women of the world will agree these lofty ideals outweigh the time wastage demonstrated by your teenage son on the couch all weekend playing video games, drinking non-nutritious stuff and eating junk-food when he should have been out there conquering the world!

This is Dave Reece reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 4th April 2021

Reliefweb.int reports that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Council of Ministers has endorsed the offer by Mozambique to host the SADC Humanitarian and Emergency Operations Centre (SHOC) which will be responsible for facilitating enhanced regional disaster risks preparedness, response and early recovery to support Member States affected by disasters.

The Council of Ministers held a virtual meeting on 12th March, 2021 to discuss policies, strategies and programmes geared towards consolidating SADC regional integration in fulfilment of Council’s mandate as spelt out in Article 11 of the SADC Treaty. Honourable Verónica Nataniel Macamo Dlhovo, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of the Republic of Mozambique, chaired the meeting in her capacity as the Chairperson of the SADC Council of Ministers.

The SADC Council noted that the SHOC will enhance the coordination of support towards Member States affected by disasters.

The SADC Region has over the years stressed the need to strengthen climate resilience as well as general preparedness against natural disasters such as droughts, cyclones and floods. These multiple hazards have highlighted the importance of cooperation and coordinated response, as well as the need to come up with innovative mechanisms to strengthen resilience, preparedness and responsiveness for disasters, including pandemics, epidemics and related hazards.

In the past few decades, the SADC Region has experienced an increasing frequency and severity of droughts, floods, cyclones and locusts that have been attributed to climate change and variability, resulting in food insecurity and other socio-economic impacts.

The Region has faced a number of weather-related phenomena such as tropical cyclones which caused extensive flooding in SADC Member States such as the Comoros, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Cyclone Idai, which hit the Region in 2020, was recorded as one of the worst tropical storms ever to affect Africa and the southern hemisphere.

The 2019 annual report of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change said 91 percent of all major disasters and 77 percent of economic losses from natural disasters during the year were attributed to extreme weather events.

This percentage is expected to increase as the World Meteorological Organisation has projected that global temperatures would rise by between three and five degrees Celsius by 2100.

In FreeNews, John Kessler has written about the new ionospheric weather prediction capabilities which Russia will have with its Satellite System “Arktica-M”.

He says: “The instruments of the complex installed on the “Arktika-M” will monitor the characteristics of the near-earth environment during solar flares and geomagnetic storms.

“Space weather affects the conditions of radio communications, and the setting of flight restrictions for aircraft pilots. If it is predicted, then it is possible to prepare for incidents on power grids and exclude events when large-scale power outages occur due to strong magnetic storms.” End quote.

Alexey Kovalev, chief designer of the RKS heliogeophysical instrumentation complex, has said:

“GGAK-VE should measure the values of the Earth’s magnetic field in orbit, [and] cosmic fluxes of electrons and protons. Some of the measurements will be carried out for the first time. The complex was created in cooperation with the leading institutes of the industry: the Institute of Applied Geophysics named after academician E.K. Fedorov, the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the D.V. Skobeltsin Moscow State University named after M.V. Lomonosov. The complex has unified instruments that also operate in a continuous mode on the Electro-L geostationary spacecraft.”

John continues: “The space system ‘Arktika-M’ will continuously provide operational information about the state of the atmosphere and surface of the Arctic region of the Earth to the Hydro-Meteorological Centre of Russia.

“This will improve the accuracy of the models when making short-term weather forecasts, help track emergencies and carry out environmental monitoring of the environment.”

Thanks to John Kessler for this report.

Now when last did you drop an expensive radio and feel your heart sink into your boots? Well NASA is quite happy about what they’re going to drop.

Nasa.gov says engineers will drop a 6350kg test version of the Orion spacecraft into the “Hydro Impact Basin” at NASA’s Langley Research Centre’s Landing and Impact Research Facility in Hampton, Virginia at 1:45 p.m. EDT Tuesday, April 6. (What is a Hydro Impact Basin, I hear you ask? Well, that means they’re going to drop it into a dammetjie of water!)

The test will air live on NASA Television, the NASA app and the agency’s website, and will livestream on multiple agency social media platforms, including the Facebook channels for Orion and Langley.

This series of drop tests began March 23 to finalize computer models for loads and structures prior to the Artemis II flight test, NASA’s first mission with crew aboard Orion. Artemis II will carry astronauts around the Moon and back, paving the way to land the first woman and next man on the lunar surface and establish a sustainable presence at the Moon under the Artemis programme. The current test series builds on previous tests and uses a configuration of the crew module based on the spacecraft’s final design.

Thank you to Southgate Amateur Radio News for alerting me to that one.

The promotion of electric cars has dramatically increased the demand for lithium-ion batteries. However, cobalt and nickel, the main cathode materials for the batteries, are not abundant. If the consumption continues, it will inevitably elevate the costs in the long run, so scientists have been actively developing alternative materials. A joint research team co-led by a scientist from City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has developed a much more stable, manganese-based cathode material. The new material has higher capacity and is more durable than the existing cobalt and nickel cathode materials—90% of capacity is retained even when the number of charging-recharging cycles doubled. Their findings shed light on developing low cost and high efficiency manganese-based cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries.

“The capacity of the LiCoO2 cathode material currently applied in electronic products like smartphones is about 165mAh/g, while our LiMnO2 cathode material has already achieved a capacity as high as 254.3mAh/g, which is much higher,” Dr. Liu, head of the research team, and assistant Professor in the Department of Physics (PHY) at CityU elaborated. “It is difficult for commercial LiCoO2 to maintain 90% capacity even at 1,000 cycles. And our material has achieved high capacity retention of 90.4% after 2,000 cycles, demonstrating a long cycle life,” he added.

The net effect would be to allow more recharge cycles of your lithium battery, and reduce the demand for this scarce material. Sounds promising to me..

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

HAMNET Report 28th March 2021

In a message to his regional directors, National HAMNET Director Grant Southey ZS1GS reports that he and Brian Jacobs attended a virtual meeting of the IARU Region 1 emergency communications leaders on 27th February. It was interesting to note that JS8Call was discussed a few times for Emmcomm use. Happily, SA seems to be doing very well in this field.

Greg Mossop, the Region1 co-ordinator took a liking to South Africa’s use of it during JS8Call parties and would like for us Region1operators to play with the mode during the 11/12 April QSO party.  He is proposing that we concentrate on the period 12h00-15h00UTC on the 11th, and we use the call group @R1emcor for transmissions.

Greg is looking at ways to communicate with South Africa and Grant hopes we can show him that we are more than capable.

In an interesting diversion from what we regard as a normal DXPedition, the concept of a radio-in-a-box has been developed, in a waterproof Pelican case, which is dropped off on a DXPedition site, with generator and antennas, and then operated remotely, from on board a nearby vessel. This obviates the common problem where operators are not allowed to stay on the island overnight, and so cannot take advantage of night-time conditions there, or better propagation at other times of day in other parts of the world. The ship-to-shore link has been tested with a Ubiquiti data bridge on 900 MHz, and this type of low-profile expedition may become the norm in sensitive geographical areas.

George Wallner, AA7JV, has been operating as C6AGU from Deep Water Cay in the Bahamas, during March, and tested this setup, to appease the concerns of environmental protection agencies that oppose camping on protected land. George’s setup contains a FLEX-6700 and an amplifier, and operators in his group include W6IZT, W8HC, and KN4EEI.

So far, all tests of the system have been deemed to be very successful. Thank you to the ARRL Letter of March 25th, for news of this clever development.

Now here’s a very clever technology, reported on in UASweekly.com. They report:

NEC Laboratories Europe has prototyped new, AI-enabled drone technology that quickly locates natural disaster victims using their mobile phones or smart devices in areas with damaged or no cellular infrastructure.

Finding disaster victims is slow and resource intensive. To locate victims, emergency response teams rely on line-of-sight or being in close proximity, and mortality rates are often high. NEC’s new prototype technology, SARDO (Search-And-Rescue DrOne), greatly expands search and rescue capabilities by using an autonomous drone as a mobile cellular base station to identify signals from smart devices of victims as it flies nearby.

Existing device tracking technology, such as GPS or standard cellular trilateration, is not suited for natural disaster situations. GPS tracking requires that a disaster victim be in possession of a GPS-enabled smart device and that GPS tracking be active at the time of the disaster. In the event of a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or snow avalanche, cellular network infrastructure may not be working, or the disaster may have occurred in an area with inadequate coverage like a remote, mountainous region. This limits or prevents network operators from locating victims using their mobile phone signals.

SARDO fills this gap by incorporating the functionality of a cellular base station into an autonomous drone. Using pseudo-trilateration SARDO, as a mobile base station, acts as a single anchor that retrieves multiple distance measurements from a disaster victim’s smart device, taken by the drone over its flight time. The SARDO drone uses machine learning to calculate the position of a victim’s device even when that person is moving. The drone continually adjusts itself based on their predicted motion until it has identified the exact position of a victim. Says Antonio Albanese, Research Associate at NEC Laboratories Europe: “SARDO brings together the increasingly higher penetration rate of smart devices in our society and the ability of drones to reach harsh locations. We can now combine these technologies to build a standalone localization system that effectively supports first responders in disaster recovery operations. Requiring no pre-deployment effort, it can be up-and-running within minutes and keep the related deployment complexity to a minimum.”

SARDO works by identifying the unique identification number of a disaster victim’s eSIM or SIM card using the resource control connection that it establishes with a base station. With required emergency approvals, the SARDO drone can search for both a specific victim and all unknown victims within a given region. In collaboration with the network operator, search and rescue teams can also communicate directly with a victim via their devices. In large disasters with many victims, multiple SARDO drones can be used to scale up search and rescue efforts.

In earthquakes, damage to buildings is often extensive and rubble hampers search and rescue efforts. SARDO identifies rubble as a propagation environment and, by compensating for this, can predict a victim’s current location in it. In principle, this same technique is used by SARDO to identify channel artefacts produced by different propagation environments such as snow caused by avalanches or water in times of flooding.

Using commonly available parts, any commercial drone or UAV that meets disaster zone search and rescue requirements can be converted and deployed as a SARDO. This makes it extremely versatile in meeting the needs of different disaster response teams.

So, in summary, this is a more sophisticated way for a drone to calculate where that cell phone signal is coming from, while it desperately tries to ping its out-of-reach cell tower, without relying on the presence or absence of a GPS location. This should work even with my old Nokia 2110!  Thanks to UASweekly.com for the report.

It being the week before Easter, and Pesach week currently in progress, may I wish you all happy Easter and happy Pesach, and encourage all of us to remain safe, and healthy by following the rules of this pandemic game we are dicing with, and at the same time radio-active, and willing to be of help to your fellow South African. With the threat of the start of a third wave of the pandemic hovering in front of us, it behoves us to be responsible in our actions and activities.

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

HAMNET Report 21st March 2021

In a letter to the editor of the ARES weekly newsletter, Doug McCray K2QWQ notes that, with an increasing number of bad actors with EMP (electromagnetic pulse) devices these days, the disruption of a country’s electronic infrastructure is tempting. Many veteran radio amateurs have older V/UHF/HF mobile radios and handhelds, and it may be a good idea to store them in a small steel trash can, along with a roll of RG58, a mag mount or other kind of antenna, and light line to hoist the antenna into a tree. There is little or no cost involved, and this puts older gear to potential use in an EMP incident.

While not too likely, the military and other government entities do pay attention to the possibility of such an incident that could cripple the internet, power grid, twisted pair telephone line, and much of the sensitive modern lower voltage circuitry.

Many hams licensed since the end of the cold war may have little or no knowledge of what an EMP blast can do, and how difficult it is to protect against. “When all else fails” means being prepared for the unlikely.

Food for thought and an easy plan to put into action. Doug is in South Jersey.

Writing in EDN this week, John Dunn, an electronics consultant, and a graduate of the Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn, and New York University, wonders whether the SETI project has receivers with sufficient sensitivity to do signal detections via attenuations through interstellar paths of many hundreds of decibels.

He says: “Trying to find radio signals originating from extra-terrestrial civilizations presents huge technical challenges, one of which is path loss between other stars and our home planet. Neglecting the possible effects of obstacles such as dust clouds, basic geometry creates a detection problem all on its own.

“Project SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) is looking for extra-terrestrial radio signals coming from other star systems. If we construct cones from those star systems, each with its point at the star in question and with Earth at the centre of the circular plane of that cone, we can compare the path attenuation from that far away star to the Earth versus the normalized path attenuation from the Moon to the Earth.

“The extra-solar path from Proxima Centauri, our sun’s closest interstellar neighbour, is approximately 4.3 light years. A radio beam traveling from there to the Earth would experience approximately 160 dB more signal attenuation than the beam path to the Earth from the Moon.

“The so-called local star group consists of those stars within 50 light years from here, for which the attenuation worsens to approximately 180 dB versus the beam path from the Moon. At distances of 1000 light years to 10 billion light years, the attenuation worsens further.

“If an extra-terrestrial civilization were using radio communications as we do, their antennas would not be especially different from our own because everyone would be constrained by the same laws of physics. I’m sure they would also have phased arrays and parabolic reflectors.

“Any transmissions they would likely make would not be especially targeted to reach us here. We would be searching for radio signals that just incidentally happen to come our way and such signals would experience the inferred path attenuations mentioned above.”

Would we hear them?

John says “I honestly don’t know, but it is one tall order indeed!”

Thank you to him and EDN for these excerpts from his article.

Now, here’s something in the “did you know” department.

Visitors to Greenland often believe that the colourful houses in every town are an inspired idea to add brightness to a monochromatic arctic setting. But they would be wrong.

After Hans Egede arrived in Greenland in 1721, Scandinavian culture began to impose itself on the new colony. Prefab houses were shipped north as kits, and buildings with a certain function generally had the same colour. In an era without street names or numbers, this made some of the key municipal buildings easier to identify.

Since most Greenlanders at the time couldn’t read, the colours also served as commercial signs. If you wanted something from the store, you looked for a red building. If you needed a hospital, you headed for the yellow building. Fishermen would bring their catch to a blue structure, indicating the local fish plant.

Nowadays, many of the colours are simply decorative, although some buildings still follow the old tradition. And residents need approval before painting: Nonconformists can’t express their individuality by going for an outlandish colour that clashes with every other house in town.

And here is the key to the colour palette of Greenland houses:

Red: Churches and stores, including the houses where the priest or shop owner lived. This is the most commonly used colour.

Yellow: Hospitals, including the houses where the doctors or nurses lived.

Green: Radio communications, or later, telecommunications buildings in general.

Black: Police.

Blue: Factories, fish plants.

Hmm, my house is a peachy-apricot colour. I think mine would have been recognised as the local madhouse!

Thanks to Explorersweb for that interesting snippet.

Finally, our friends at Southgate say that the IARU Region 1 Monitoring System newsletter reports that Over the Horizon Radar (OTHR) continues to be the biggest source of interference in the HF amateur radio bands

They also say “The mysterious groups of dashes (sometimes 5 dashes, sometimes 16 dashes, sometimes continuous dashes) keep on being transmitted during long hours almost daily on 7075 kHz and its near surroundings inside the segment of the 40 m band dedicated for FT-8 transmissions. They are very difficult to locate, and we still don’t know where they come from?”

The report was in their February 2021 newsletter, and can be found at www.iarums-r1.org.

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

HAMNET Report 14th March 2021

I told you last week that the Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge trail run would take place on 22nd May, seeing that Covid restrictions had been relaxed a bit. Well the plans have been scuppered, and not by Covid. A huge mountain fire in the Jonkershoek area about a week ago has so damaged the environment that Cape Nature has decided to close the reserve for at least 4 months to allow the vegetation to recover. So either the trail run will be postponed, or possibly cancelled altogether. Our HAMNET volunteers are highly disappointed by this, but understand the importance of the recovery of the fynbos there.

Registration is now open for the 2021 HamSCI Workshop, Friday and Saturday, March 19 – 20. The theme of this year’s workshop is mid-latitude ionospheric science. The University of Scranton will serve as host for the Zoom virtual event, sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The program will include guest speakers, poster presentations, and demonstrations.

The workshop will also serve as a team meeting for the HamSCI Personal Space Weather Station project, funded by an NSF grant to University of Scranton physics and electrical engineering professor Nathaniel Frissell, W2NAF. The project seeks to harness the power of an amateur radio network to better understand and measure the effects of weather in the upper levels of Earth’s atmosphere.

The workshop’s keynote address on the “History of Radio” will be given by Elizabeth Bruton, curator of technology and engineering at the Science Museum of London. She will discuss the history, science, technology, and licensing of radio amateur communities from the early 1900s to the present, exploring how individuals and communities contributed to “citizen science” long before the term entered popular usage in the 1990s. Bruton has been a non-licensed member of Oxford and District Amateur Radio Society since 2014 and has served as the society’s web manager since 2015.

Michael Ruohoniemi, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech and principal investigator of the Virginia Tech SuperDARN Initiative, will review the physics of the mid-latitude ionosphere and discuss ways in which the amateur radio community can contribute to advancing scientific understanding and technical capabilities.

Joe Dzekevich, K1YOW, will present “Amateur Radio Observations and The Science of Mid-latitude Sporadic E.”

Now remember all of South Africa falls within the mid-latitude description, so this kind of scientific research can be done by each and every one of us. So go to hamsci.org/hamsci2021 and register to be included in the Zoom conference next weekend. Registration is free.

We’ve all seen pictures of hurricanes when they batter a coastline somewhere on the planet. But what if we told you the same thing happened in space?

Writing in Gentside this week, David Stein says that typical hurricanes are easy to spot on satellite images: swirling clouds surround a quieter ‘eye.’ These storms typically form in the lowest layer of the atmosphere, closer to the Earth’s surface, and they trigger heavy rains and high winds.

Space hurricanes are totally different beasts altogether.

A study published last month in the journal Nature Communications describes the first space hurricane ever observed. In August 2014, satellites observed a swirling mass with a calm centre more than 200 kilometres above the North Pole. While ordinary hurricanes stir air, this space hurricane was a vortex of plasma, a type of extremely hot charged gas found throughout the solar system around strong magnetic fields. And instead of rain, this storm brought electron showers.

Michael Lockwood, an astronomer at the University of Reading (England), and co-author of the new study, said in a press release:

“Until now, it was not clear whether space plasma hurricanes existed, so to prove it with such a striking observation was incredible.”

The space hurricane was nearly 1,000 kilometres wide and was high in the sky – it formed in the ionosphere, between 80 and 965 kilometres above sea level. Michael Lockwood and his co-authors used satellite data to create a 3D model of the storm.

The space hurricane lasted eight hours, swirling counter-clockwise. According to the researchers, it had several spiral arms sticking out of its centre, much like a spiral galaxy. By connecting satellite data to a computer model, Michael Lockwood and his colleagues were able to reproduce the storm and determine its cause. They found that charged particles emitted from the sun’s upper atmosphere, the corona, were responsible for the storm.

This constant flow of solar particles and coronal plasma is known as the solar wind. It travels at about 1.5 million kilometres per hour.

These space hurricanes must be created by the exceptionally large and rapid transfer of energy from the solar wind and charged particles into the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

When the solar wind reaches the Earth, it meets the magnetic field of the planet. The Earth has such a field due to the swirling of liquid iron and nickel in its outer core, and it generates electric currents. The magnetosphere shields the planet from deadly radiation from the sun, but also retains a tiny layer of plasma from this solar wind.

In general, solar winds bounce of this protective sheath. But sometimes the charged particles and the incoming plasma interact with the trapped plasma or the electric currents that generate the field. Such interactions create disturbances in the magnetosphere.

The 2014 space hurricane was the result of one of these disturbances.

The study’s authors suggested that an interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and parts of the solar magnetic field – carried by the solar wind – contributed to the formation of the hurricane.

Usually, magnetic fields do not mix. But if they get closer, parts of the fields can realign and even merge, forming a new pattern of magnetic energy. This is probably what happened on the day of the space storm: an influx of solar wind energy formed a new configuration above the Earth’s magnetic north pole.

The storm acted as a channel from space to Earth’s atmosphere, channelling some electrons beyond the planet’s protective cover.

This shower of particles could have wreaked havoc on our high-frequency radio communications, our radar detection systems or our satellite technology, according to the study’s authors. This is because charged solar particles that infiltrate the Earth’s magnetic field can cause malfunctions in the computers and circuits of satellites and the International Space Station. Fortunately, in this case, no problem was observed.

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