Why Canada may be the best place to experience the Solar Eclipse when you are an Amateur!
Note: Robert Mazur, VA3ROM (TCA "All Things Digital" columnist) has prepared a special page on his website with information on the upcoming Solar Eclipse. You can find it at: https://va3rom.com/va3rom_015.htm
The following article by Alex Schwarz, VE7DXW, was printed on page 35 of the July-August 2017 issue of The Canadian Amateur magazine.
A very exciting celestial event will be happening in North America on August 21. A solar eclipse will pass over Oregon and then move over the United States from west to east (against the direction of the sun) in a southerly direction. This will be spectacular when viewed with our eyes. The effects of the solar radiation on the propagation of radio waves will be equally or more exciting.
It may look like Canada is not part of the solar eclipse, but British Columbia will have up to 95% coverage of the sun. As the solar eclipse is moving over the planet, it is leaving a canyon of de-ionized gas on the Ionosphere in altitudes of about 100 to 300 kilometres. This puts Canada and especially Ontario in a very good position to get really long signal paths to the horizon towards the south. Southern Ontario will be in the best location to make contacts into southern and western USA and Central America.
In southern British Columbia we can aim our antennas right down the length of the propagation anomaly and reach the Caribbean and southeast USA.
Timing is important because the gas will ionize again after the solar shadow has passed. During the solar eclipse in Europe in 1999, Amateurs recorded long-distance contacts on 160 and 80 metres!
The map below shows an epicentre line that goes across North America. It will not be visible in Europe but the effects of the eclipse on propagation could be worldwide. In southern Alberta and British Columbia the coverage of the sun will still be over 90%.
The event will start at the West Coast of America at 16:04 UTC (~10 am local time) and then work its way across the continent in a southeastern direction. It will exit the US on the Coast of South Carolina northeast of Charleston at around 20:10 UTC (~4 pm local time). The total time of the eclipse from start to finish is about 2h30m. Adding the time it takes the sun to pass North America, the time of the total event could be more than five hours for RF propagation effects.
In the US, HamSci.com is organizing efforts to light up the sky with shortwave radio transmissions and have a beacon network record the bouncing radio waves. Efforts are also on the way to use JT-65 and WSPR during this event.
We want to inform all Amateurs about the opportunity to experience the solar eclipse on a totally different level by operating radios in your ham shack.
We also have an outreach program that lets Amateurs buy a down-converter (on the web). The unit plugs into the option filter port of many currently available shortwave radios. The unit connects to the sound card and works in conjunction with our software (MDSR and RF-Seismograph) which can be downloaded for free from our website: https://users.skynet.be/myspace/mdsr/
Besides the logging of the data, our software also has the capability to upload the current noise level measurements onto the web. My home station is set up for the scanning RF-Seismograph and I have been recording six bands since August of 2016.
You can view the noise level in almost real time on a website hosted by the North Shore Amateur Radio Club (NSARC) at: https://www.nsarc.ca/hf/rf_seismo/main.html
You can also view the propagation listing by clicking on a link on the page. At present, I am the only one displaying data, but our intent is to have all participants upload their images.
We also have an MDSRadio Yahoo user group to get everybody set up and organized. It can be found online at: https://users.skynet.be/myspace/mdsr/
I encourage all Amateur Radio clubs to participate in this wonderful opportunity, to not only see the eclipse, but also experience the effect it has on radio propagation. Maybe we can partner up with the Astronomical Society which is also planning to bring out telescopes to give the public a firsthand look.
All the best. Alex, VE7DXW and the MDSR Team.
Note: For more information, please refer to the article “The Development of the Scanning RF-Seismograph” on page 35 of the March/April 2017 TCA. The photo of the solar eclipse at the top of the page is courtesy of NASA.