Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Visibly Green, Silent Sound of Spring
Last weekend was the ARRL DX SSB Contest and I made only a few contacts over the course of the weekend. The bands were rough going here in Alaska. I have the deepest admiration for those Alaska contest stations who stuck it out over the weekend and struggled for each and every QSO. I know this simply by what the band conditions were like here and the amount of QSO's many of them were able to log. I personally don't operate SSB contests much anymore but there is no doubt in my mind, if I had attempted any effort last weekend, it would of been short lived. Contesting takes patience and I have little with poor propagation and even less with SSB. When combining those two elements, I'm normally off doing other things with my weekend.

Funny how things change when it comes to the sun and propagation. We had very little propagation on 10 meters for years. Then, out of the blue, the sun became active and with the increase in Solar Flux Index (SFI), 10 meters sprang to life! We enjoyed 10 meters for months and I know I entered a few contests operating only 10 meters in a single band effort. The sun started to quiet, 10 began to fade as the SFI dropped. But once again, those sunspots are beginning to crackle and make things interesting...

Living so far north, the attenuation effect on the bands during these solar events can leave the bands loudly quiet. The Geomagnetic Activity and absorption due to the effects of a Solar Flare or CME can make you wonder if there might be something wrong with your antenna. It is very possible to tune across each and every band and not hear a CW, digital or SSB signal. Just did that this morning actually.
So what is there for a ham radio operator to do when there is nothing on the bands? Well, step outside and look up! My other hobby is photography and I very much enjoy photographing the Aurora. Thankfully with modern technology, it's easy to see when the AU is visible from your location. Often times, the biggest problem is getting to view the aurora when you know it's directly overhead. Just as the geomagnetic activity can attenuate signals, the clouds above can obscure one of the most amazing light shows you will ever see. With a little luck and clear skies, a northern ham has plenty to do when the bands are quiet. And it appears the current Sunspot #1429 will be making our propagation extremely challenging in the days ahead however, it may bring us the best aurora viewing of the year. My Icom may be quiet but my Olympus will be capturing that silence overhead as the green lights of winter remind me, there is more to life than ham radio. 

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