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Blame the sun if your cell phone reception is bad


The beginning of Solar Cycle 24 is finally here and that has implications for all of us. For example, anyone who uses a cell phone, GPS receiver, or satellite television may encounter more frequent reception problems, especially as the solar cycle matures.

There are some people including myself, who are actually looking forward to the increase in sunspot activity. As an amateur radio operator, solar storms and flare disruptions open all sorts of interesting opportunities for enhanced radio communications on the Ham bands. It also will spark an increase is one of nature’s most impressive visual artworks. In fact the first aurora of the new solar cycle has already been recorded on January 4, 2008.

Meet sunspot 10981

A new sunspot named 10,981 heralded the beginning of Solar Cycle 24. The sun has sunspots all of the time, what makes sunspot 10981 significant is that it was observed at a high-latitude and had reversed polarity. To explain, mature solar cycle sunspots occur near the sun’s equator, while sunspot 10981 appeared at what is called high latitude, specifically 30 degrees North. Sunspot 10981 also has what is called reversed polarity, meaning the sunspot has the opposite magnetic polarity when compared to sunspots in the prior solar cycle. Both of these observations are indicators to scientists that a new solar cycle is on hand.

Scientists say that sunspot 10981 is actually a rather small one, only about the size of the Earth, which should give some perspective to the actual size of the sun. Even though sunspot 10981 is already gone, it has scientists and engineers wondering about their predictions for Solar Cycle 24. Most predict that the new cycle will be a somewhat anemic one, but if there are a significant number of sunspots and other solar storms early in the cycle it usually means a highly active solar season, which normally lasts 11 years.

OK, so what’s the big deal?

Sunspots and other solar storms generate immense magnetic fields that affect all electronics, especially wireless devices. Describing the storm’s effects in increasing magnitude: solar storms affect all satellite electronics, solar flares can affect all forms of wireless reception on Earth, and coronal mass ejections (CME) the most powerful storms have the potential to cause electrical power outages by affecting grid management. The fact that the citizens of Earth are increasingly dependent on space technology, makes the situation that much more critical, since satellites are the first equipment to be affected by solar storms

Airlines are also very respectful of solar storms and monitor their activity closely. Solar activity can affect airplane communications, as well as create navigation and computational errors. What is not very well known is that these effects are more prevalent on what are called the polar routes, which are international flight paths that travel over the Earth’s poles. These routes are very appealing to airlines because it allows the airplane to travel the shortest distance between two cities, for example New York and Tokyo. If solar activity reaches a certain magnitude the airlines will have to avoid the polar routes which increase costs and take considerably longer.

No worries just yet

Solar Cycle 24 is just starting and most of the intense activity is years away, but is interesting just the same. In fact NASA is getting ready to launch a new satellite to study Solar Cycle 24, called Solar Dynamics Observatory. I feel it is important to mention that the solar phenomena mentioned here is not visible to the naked eye, so please refer to the NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory website to see any kind of activity on the sun’s surface.

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22 comments
NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Here I was considering whether or not to get back in to ham radio and you post this. Now I'm enrolled in the next ARRL licensing course and it's all your fault! :D

ManiacMan
ManiacMan

Are there beef and poultry radios too? Must be some weird mutation in these animals. I've always said that pumping hormones into these animals will cause weird genetic mutations to happen and ham radio is proof of such. :^0

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I am very happy that you are going to re-join the amateur ranks. If you need any help or literature, please let me know. What license are you going to get? It is funny how the increase in solar activity is actually a double-edged sword for amateurs. It will help with many earth-based frequency bands, but could harm the satellites that the amatuers have in orbit.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

It is not some strange mutation that occurred. Ham radio is due to the less dense meat being able to scatter and re-form the signal with a +30db signal (per sq ft). It is the pig itself that is not really 'of this earth' but was originally brought from a planet far, far away! So, if anyone grabe a bunch of HAMS and lines them in a specific pattern, you know for sure that they are trying to communicate very far away. If they line them towards the sky, TAKE THEM OUT!!! As they are trying to send signals to the alien (people harversters) from the planet which the Hams originally came :^0 :^0 :^0 Please note, I am not being racist against evil aliens, pigs, radio's, or Ham in general!!! :^0

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

We'll see where it goes from there. I did enjoy working the 80-, 40-, and 20-meter bands at MARS stations, so I'll probably eventually shoot for an Extra class My first involvement was during my early military days. My first 11 years in the AF, I worked almost exclusively on HF radios. At one assignment, my shop was also the local MARS station. The site was truly hi-tech. In addition to the KWM-2, there was a KWT-6 (backup only) and a rotatable LP antenna as well. I do remember we did have some fun with our military radios a couple of times, usually involving excess power or illegal antennas in the CB band. I think the statute of limitations has expired on the offenses, so maybe some day I'll share. Edit: Well, that's a surprise! The local club (W4RRC) meets less than a mile from my house. :D

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

If these sun spots and storms will interfere with all bands, how will it help Ham radio operators? Maybe I am just too tired right now to figure it out!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Phased array bacon has been sold for decades. :p

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

All frequencies should be in kHz and the ratio B/A should be .06

ManiacMan
ManiacMan

just in case I want to try establishing contact with aliens....err..I mean extra terrestrials. I must be politically correct to satisfy the liberals and overly sensitive twits on TR. :^0

seanferd
seanferd

The dimensions "A" and "B" for a terminated tilted folded dipole are as follows: Each leg "A" = [ 2 X pi ( 15.25 / Fo )] and; Distance "B" = [ 2 X pi ( 0.915 / Fo )] where in both instances 2 X pi = 6.28 and Fo is in Mhz. So yeah, a whole pig might be really good for this, the impedance of pork might be quite high, but it has 4 legs. :) edit: Tail must be grounded.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Thanks for the offer. I will definitely keep it in mind. I'm looking forward to getting back into it. I will admit that one of the more memorable incidents involved a 10? billboard antenna (+40dB gain) at azimuth 000, a Cobra CB, Channel 19, and propagation delay...just to prove a point. Edit: added missing info

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Sounds like a some good memories. I have been a ham for almost 45 years now and it still seems that the old days of radio tubes and simple circuits have the best memories for me as well. You really do not need to take a class for the Tech license. The ARRL posts all the questions used for the test on their web site. We are much more concerned about getting people interested in amateur radio than having them struggle with a super difficult test. Here is the link to the site with the information for the Tech test. http://www.arrl.org/arrlvec/pools.html I have had my Extra for many years now and to be honest I typically do not use any more frequency bands than the Tech license allows. Please let me know if I can be of any help.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

I figured it woul dbe intricate. I just read the second link, and it was as expected. But it id a good job of explaining decently! Thanks again for the links, I'll likely look up the other 2 soon as well.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

that was sufficient for now. I will be looking up those articles later. I just bookmarked them for when I have more time.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Pond Scum that is a great question. The only problem is that there is not a simple answer for it. Solar activity affects RF signals of varying wavelengths differently. A generalized statement is that the higher frequency RF signals, i.e., shorter wavelength will benefit from increased solar activity, where as the lower frequency i.e., longer wavelength RF signals will not. Governments of the world all amateur radio operators the use of RF signals starting in the VLF frequency range all the way to the upper microwave bands, and amateurs use these different frequency bands for various purposes. An amateur radio operator wanting to DX or communicate with other stations that are past the line of sight distance (approximately 15 miles at ground level) will have to use other means to create a link. Using RF signals in the 20 meter band to the 6 meter ?Magic Band? allows the use of what is called skip or bouncing the signal off of the ionosphere. Without the sun, and the sun spots it creates, this type of long distance communications would not be possible. It only works because the solar activity provides the needed level of atmospheric ionization to allow the bands to open. Another solar activity i.e., solar flares can cause aurora which allow the amateur radio operator using 6 meters to work distances of a 1000 miles or more with a simple station, in addition to creating a pretty light show. That is why the 6 meter band is called the ?Magic Band? as it is the only band that seems to have this ability. High levels of aurora can also make HF radio propagation via polar routes difficult. VHF and UHF RF signals are almost always limited to line of sight (same as Wi-Fi RF propagation) and when upper atmospheric conditions are intense enough to reflect high frequency RF signals. long distance links are still not usually possible for the VHF and UHF bands. That is why any extraterrestrial communications use microwave frequency ranges as the RF signal normally has enough energy to punch through the ionosphere. Special lower atmospheric conditions can create what are called inversion tunnels and they will allow VHF and UHF RF signals to exceed line of sight distances. The other quantifying point is the intensity of the solar activity. There is a point where the intensity will begin to disrupt RF communications and even damage electronic equipment. There is a great deal more to this and I am not sure I even provided a satisfactory answer. If you are interested I have listed several ARRL sites that discuss this type of communications. http://www.arrl.org/tis/info/k9la-prop.html http://www.arrl.org/tis/info/sun.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_propagation

seanferd
seanferd

that if the radiation influx is intense enough to start messing with the Grid, that ham will probably be interfered with. I am not realyy sure about it. Even if really long wave radio, like ELF, may not be interfered with, you'd thing the antennae would be taking on an unhealthy charge, interfering with actual transmission.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

all band interference destroy communications from said places that would not normally be reached? If the interference can wipe out power grids, and waste away the signals from the sats, it would likely also negate the radio band from here, would it not? But I see from your post that if it does not, one may be able to receive signals from places that could not have been reached previously with said radios due to the Earths curvature/power restraints. Interesting input.

seanferd
seanferd

Ham-band radidio wavers bounce off it, over the horizon.

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