Sunday, July 19, 2009

"I'll be up in a minute Honey, I'm checking for Sporadic E"

I actually said that to my XYL yesterday on one of my numerous trips to the basement shack to see if there was any trace of activity on 6 meters (Oops, I’m Canadian, that would be 6 metres). BTW my better-half is used to having radio lingo thrown at her to qualify my need to descend to the depths where my little, but cosy, radio nook is located….although I don’t think I’ve used the Sporadic E excuse before. She may actually have thought I was looking for fungus growing on the basement floor, or some foot condition that might require treatment.

The frequent 6m checks were due to this weekend's CQ World-Wide VHF contest. If there was any type of propagation happening on either the 6 or 2 meter band this weekend, it would be very evident by the sheer number of people who would be on the air. Well this time the sun just wasn’t cooperating. At least in this particular Maidenhead (FN14) the activity was little to zilch. Parked on the SSB calling frequency 50.125 MHz, I heard the odd signal rise above the abyss, but very few that managed to register a notch on the S meter. Judging by the activity on a DX cluster I was monitoring, Europe had a decent go of it, but action in North America was pretty minimal. Undoubtedly there were a few openings here and there for some and I’m sure a few folks managed some good contacts. I see a few east-coast stations managed Trans-Atlantic QSOs. On CW I heard one US station trying to get the attention of an SP (Poland)…although I couldn’t hear the DX station.

Like the rest of my station, the antenna set-up for 6m is pretty modest. Although the tri-band vertical I now have up in the air for 6m, 2m and 70cm is a vast improvement over the little 2m whip I used to have perched on top of the garage that loaded up nicely on 6 (and I DID manage a fair number of QSO’s with that little antenna). The only contact I managed this time actually took place on Friday night, before the contest started, with a station about 100 miles (160 km) to the north-east, probably due to some Aurora judging by how fluttery the signal sounded.

Back to the sun…the whole ‘science’ of how propagation works, especially with bands like 6m and higher is quite fascinating, but rather confusing for the novice. Like many things there are some great on-line resources. One of my favourites is, maintained by VE3EN. It’s a great quick reference to see if ole sol is sending some “radio sunshine” our way.

Here's a list of some other useful sites that explain, predict, or otherwise simplify the propagation phenomenom. This is is by no means complete, and if you know of a useful site, please let me know by posting a comment.

73 & Good DX! A good place to get the propagation conditions and predictions for the upcoming week. Despote being written by a Professor of Physics (who is a ham) this explains propagation theory in a fairly easy-to-understand way. Although written more with the FM/TV DXer in mind, Glenn Hauser does an excellent job of explains the different types of propagation. A good portal to all sorts of sites about propagation. Another good portal. Some quick data on current conditions, including sular flux, A & K indexes, solar winds and a three-day forcast. Not specifically directed to the radio amateur, but tonnes of useful information about what the sun is up to.