Saturday, October 3, 2009

Up All Day

When Ski Season is about to begin, or is in full swing, I'm up all night. During my Off Season, I join the masses...sleeping at night, in the dark, as God intended. I'm up right now, like the Sun.

There's been a little more chatter about our Star these past few months than I usually hear...Granted, my interests are more Sun-Centric than your garden variety Everyman's. I dig Radio, I have since I was just a little boy. Once I became a Groomer, radio took on a more important place in my work life. Groomers communicate by radio, and groomers listen to radio to enliven our workspace. The state of the Sun has much influence on radio here on Earth. Every band can be affected by Solar Activity. When the Sun is hyperactive, say near the peak of it's Sunspot Cycle, radio waves can carry Worldwide with very little radiated power. The Sun, when really churning, excites the Ionosphere, turning it into a mirror for Radio Waves.

Over the years, I've heard Low Power Ham Radio stations from the other side of the world as clearly as if they were a 50,000 Watt "Blowtorch" AM Station in the next town. I heard a sailor by Ham Radio, transmitting aboard his small sailboat from South of Tahiti, using his Backstay as his antenna. I listened to him over a space of four or five days, as he worked the local (to him, in the South Pacific) cruiser nets.

Cruiser Nets are Ham Radio or Marine SSB Networks of boats cruising waters across the world. Every Sea popular with Cruising Sailors has one or more Radio Nets. Baja California, for example, has several Cruiser Nets, where cruisers check in daily to report on their location, the sea state, local weather observations, and other data of interest to cruisers in the area. These nets meet every day at the same hour, and often feature a detailed weather report. After the weather report, and once everyone on the net checks in, then specific traffic between boats on the net is arranged to pass communications between themselves and land stations, or make telephone calls over the air using a radio/phone patch.

Before I got on the internet, I would monitor the Sonrisa Net from Baja as part of my annual run-up to our October Baja Fishing Expeditions. Tango-Papa, a Ham from SoCal did the Weather Report daily from his van parked in the parking lot of his place of employment. Tango-Papa was deservedly a legend in Ham and Cruiser circles. He was quite the character, and a joy to listen to. He's been written up several times in "Latitude 38", San Francisco Bay's Free Sailing Monthly.

Closer to home, I've come to rely on my "Police Scanner" during the season. Properly named "Wide Band Receivers", scanners are radios that can search for radio traffic in the Business Mobile Bands, like Ski Resorts and Towing Companies use. Local law Enforcement, Fire Departments, Local Municipality Snow Removal Crews, Rail Roads and CalTrans Operations can all be heard in the clear once you know their assigned frequencies. This is instant, up to the minute intelligence, that makes getting to and from work during Storm Periods much less hassle.

My little hand-held scanner can listen to 500 stations at a time, tuning in the station that's active now, and returning to scan mode once the frequency is clear of traffic. I can listen to the NWS Weather Radio too, though I don't Scan the frequency because weather Radio transmits non-stop, so I wouldn't hear any other Comms. I turn the scanner on when winter weather begins, and turn it off once the season winds down. During the off season, I'll turn it back on if there are any wildfires nearby.

To recap, the long distance comms like the Cruiser Nets are High Frequency (HF) also known as Short Wave. The scanner listens to VHF and UHF bands, and these comms typically are short distance, line of sight services. The HF Comms depend on the Sun to excite the Ionosphere, so the 100W or less signal can skip around the world by "bouncing off" the ionosphere.

The Sun can on occasion, have an effect on local VHF traffic too, especially in the Tropics. When the Sun heats the tropical waters in local Summer and Fall, lots of thunderstorm-style clouds build. These banks of thunder storm clouds sometimes act like an excited ionosphere, reflecting radio waves over long distances. The phenomena's is name "Tropospheric Skip", and radio waves from very low powered transmitters sometimes are heard thousands of miles away from their source.

So what about all the Solar Chatter I've been aware of lately? The Sun is quiet...too quiet. After a couple of Sunspots transited the face of the Sun last week, the Sun is once again without Sunspots. Scientists say 2009 is Seventh on the list of Least Annual Sunspots. Of the past 100 years, 2008 ranks #2 and so far, 2009 is in 6th. I haven't fired up my Shortwave radio lately, but I doubt I'd be hearing anything from the other side of the planet. These are probably frustrating times for HF Hams.

Climate Scientists cite another effect of the Quiet Sun, the Sun's Magnetic Field is way down too. The Sun's Heliosphere deflects most of the Cosmic Rays that find their way into the Inner Solar System where we reside. This Study reports the Cosmic Rays reaching Earth are up 19% over the past 50 years.

Cosmic Rays are responsible for cloud formation world wide, and increased clouds result in a cooling climate World Wide. Increased Cloud Cover may be responsible for a Dramatic Cooling Event in 2007/2008

Now that you don't need to learn Morse Code to get a HF Ham License, I hope we're not in for a serious Solar Minimum. When I get my HF Ham Ticket, I want to Talk Back to that Cruiser in the South Pacific!

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