Friday, January 22, 2010

What's a Ham to Do...

When the bands get knocked out by geomagnetic activity? I monitor HAARP here in Alaska to see how absorption will effect my passion, working stations all over the globe. Often times, high absorption rates mean I won't hear much on a band or at the very least, signals will be much harder to hear. At these times, signals may be accompanied by a excessive fluttering sound or echo. And other bands can be much better leading up to, even during, or after such solar activity. During solar minimums, you will always here ham radio operators talking about sunspots. Hams need sunspots like truck drivers need coffee.

Recently sunspot 1041 showed promise with lots of activity. It released several M-class flares that began on January 18th. Those flares effected the radio waves here on earth by causing a few minor radio blackouts. This activity was recorded on HAARP's website. The graph to the left shows the amount of absorption. We had the sunspot activity, and earth saw an increase in the solar wind due to the effects of a Coronal Hole from the sun. With all this going on during solar minimum, it always leads to some extra excitement.

When the bands fade away on a cold winter night, what is a ham to do? Well, I enjoy taking to the outdoors to photograph the Northern Lights. When we see the increase in solar winds or see the
direct effects from solar flares, this can cause a beautiful light show overhead. Being this far north, it is often directly overhead! Some nights, the aurora will be low on the horizon if it's a minor display, from 20 degrees to 45 degrees. This night, it just so happened that the aurora was visible low on the horizon. The conditions were just perfect for photographing the aurora. The skies were clear, we had the increase in solar wind (about 495 km/s) and a crescent moon, which helped illuminate the landscape. The local temperature was -11F, so it was not too cold.
I noticed the Earth's magnetic field dip to the south as noted on, so I quickly gazed outdoors. Sure enough, the sky was starting to light up with the ever familiar green ribbon of light. I got my camera ready and after grabbing my cold weather garb, it was outdoors I went. These photos were taken from our street. We are lucky not to have much light pollution. The only light pollution would be from the small town north of here.

I purchased an Olympus E-520 about a year ago and I'm attempting to get familiar with the perfect settings for the aurora. I wanted to experiment with a foreground for the depth of field and also an attempt to put the light show in perspective in relation to the angle and how low on the horizon this show was. Camera settings were ISO 200, F/4 and a 30 second exposure. I started with ISO 100 and went as long as 60 seconds but ended up increasing my ISO and decreasing my exposure setting. I'm hoping for a few more solar winds to not only make the ham bands a bit better but to also help me bond with my DSLR. Each camera I have owned had it's own sweetspot when it came to good aurora photos. I'm not there yet with this camera, but I'm getting close. I just need Mother Nature to cooperate for a few more attempts. The aurora is only visible here during dark periods, which leaves summer out due to our length of daylight.

So, having this hobby that makes me pay a bit more attention to solar activity and its effects on our ionosphere have lead me to photographing the visible effects. We can't see airwaves with our naked eye, but we can sure see the aurora. So, what's a ham to do? TV has never been an option but I will gladly stand in sub zero temperatures just to get a few photos of what is one of the most breathtaking phenomena I have ever witnessed first hand. I viewed it several times from Northern Ohio, but not this frequently or this dramatic. You may be surprised what you see when you look north on a dark night. But here, I just need to look directly overhead. Yea, I'm spoiled.

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