Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunspots are back ... and so am I

Those of you who are regular readers here know that I normally try to publish something around once every week or so. I've had some unplanned downtime in the past, and that's the case with my recent 2 month absence. For the most part, I have been trying to get on the radio, but I've been dealing with some things for a while and I haven't really felt up to writing. I'm going to to try to change that and get back on a somewhat regular schedule again.

The good news is that there is something to write about. As I indicated in the title of this post, solar cycle 24 finally seems to have taken hold. For weeks or even months at a time, the sunspot number had been a miserable zero. Now and then there would be a single brief spot over the past few months, but typically they wouldn't last very long or be large enough to have any positive effect on the ionosphere. That seems to be changing, at long last.

For the past couple of weeks, the sunspot number has been in the 30-50 range. The number itself is a little confusing: as I write this, the Boulder sunspot number is 37, but that doesn't mean that there are 37 sunspots. This explanation from gives a general overview, and there are many others (ask your favorite search engine for "sunspot number), but a really simplified explanation is that the number represents both the number of groups of sunspots as well as the actual count of spots. For hams, higher is better, as it causes more ionization to occur, which in turn means that we've got a better "surface" to use to bounce our signals.

In addition to the sunspot number, one of the other important indicators is the solar flux index. This number had been stuck at around 69 or 70 (the minimum) for many months. Finally, it's started to move up the scale and has been in the mid-90s for most of the week. Again, this is an indication that propagation will be good.

My recent on-air experience has shown that things have improved significantly. Increased propagation means that bands like 10m and 12m become useful. This has happened recently, and I took a look at my log to try to see just how good things have gotten.

I've made 8 contacts in the last two days on 12m, including working into South Africa and Nigeria. That doesn't sound like much until you consider the following: In 2009, I had 2 contacts on 12m, and one of those was with 4U1UN, the United Nations station, which is only about 20 miles or so from me. (That was ground wave propagation, not bounced off the ionosphere.) In 2008, I had 4 contacts, 7 in 2007, 8 in 2006, and so on, I hadn't made a significant number of contacts since 2002 and earlier on 12m.

The point is that things are finally starting to turn around. The bands are improving, and I am having a tremendous amount of fun being able to pick up some new bands for a bunch of countries again.

As I've told a few hams who weren't around for solar cycle 23, You ain't seen nothin' yet.