Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Geminids gone but there is still time for a month of action

The 2018 Geminids were pretty good from my point of view...
Meteor scatter contacts at GM4FVM 8 to 14 December 2018
Click to enlarge the image, if need be.

The image shows all three bands I used, 6m, 4m and 2m. Several of these people I have worked during various showers over the past 10 years. Some surprises this year included SM5EPO, at huge strength, on 2 metres. I have worked Per-O 14 times before during meteor showers, but previously only on 6m. SP9HWY was my 27th MS contact with Jurek on 4m, but needless to say many of those were random contacts outside any particular shower peak.

It was nice to work OH6UW on 144MHz after a gap of almost 5 years. I think that pretty well represents the different nature of 2m meteor scatter - it is more irregular in my experience. Just to prove myself wrong, I have worked YL2AO on 2m in the Geminids shower each year for the past three years. S52OR's record with me on various showers on 4m goes back to 2014.

IV3GTH was a nice contact on 2metres. OK, I have worked that part of Italy before on meteor scatter but it still never fails to amaze me that this is possible. He heard me calling CQ while I was beaming much further East. I saw him post that on PSK Reporter and I thought I might as well beam towards IV3GTH and call CQ. Much to my amazement he came back to me and then the contact started in earnest. He did peel off for a while to call another station in a much more attractive square than mine (I don't operate from an oil rig in the middle of the North Sea), but he came back to me later and we completed a nice QSO.

That contact proves how useful it is to tick the "Enable PSK Reporter Spotting" in WSJT-X. You never know who is watching PSK Reporter and may call you if they only knew you were there.

I asked before, why not try meteor scatter (here)? The same considerations still apply. If you can operate FT8 on VHF you have a station capable of working during meteor showers. The commonly held idea is that MS requires high power and big antennas but this is really no longer valid. The WSJT-X suite put paid to most of that. Of course, more power (how much? Just more...) might help, and so might a huge antenna. This year on 6m I have been using a two element HB9CV and about 55 watts. Not exactly earth shattering, but perfectly suitable.
6m HB9CV in use at GM4FVM ready for the windy season.

The eleven tips I give in the posting I linked to above are still valid. David, GM4JJJ added a twelfth. After listening on the bands this year I would just mention again some things worth remembering.

Please stick to the protocol for calling in the right segment in the right direction. Broadly speaking, if you are beaming South and East always use the second segment (don't check the "Tx even/1st" box on WSJT-X). If you are beaming West or North DO click the "Tx even/1st" box. Obviously, if the best DX in the world turns up on the "wrong" segment nobody will mind if you work them, but remember that while you do so you are probably wiping out all the receivers of all the stations around you. So be quick.

Best plan is - only call CQ on the correct segment (point 2 in that article). And don't waste everybody's time by calling stations who are calling in the wrong segment because they are almost certainly beaming away from you and are not interested in working you (point 3).

I know it is difficult to stick to this, and it is difficult to avoid making a mistake by clicking on a station in WSJT-X to reply to them before realising this would put you on the wrong segment. We are all understanding. We all make mistakes ourselves. But please don't just ignore the protocol. Try to stick to it.

Nor should this put anybody off. We all have to learn and newcomers will be treated with respect. Probably.

Do not imagine that high power is always needed. I was amazed to watch MI6XZZ working YL2AO with just 10 watts on 2 metres. I rather wondered if that was going to be possible. When I saw the reports exchanged and YL2AO sending RRR I realised that my doubts had been misplaced. Certainly 50 watts is fairly comfortable on 6m, and 200W is just fine as far as I can see. Many of the stations at the other end will be using 1000W and big antennas but meteor scatter is not a weak signal mode. During a peak the signals are remarkable strong. What you are doing by improving your antenna or using more power is to extend the length of time a signal can be heard at the other end while the meteor tail fades. Thankfully, MSK144 is very good at decoding very short signals, so it can pull messages out of very short pings.

And finally, operating on meteor scatter has informed my thinking on what constitutes a QSO. When every second counts you cannot stand on ceremony. All those 73s in the WSJT box of tricks are all very polite, but they are not strictly necessary. During meteor showers, and to some extent during auroras, the 73 is something not everybody waits for. They may not even send them. Did you get the callsign and report? If the answer is yes, you can fill in a QSL card, and exactly what else do you need? A "roger" from the other end certainly proves it, but so does the QSL saying he got it. I wait for the "roger". Do I wait for 73? Sure, for a while. But  do not think a QSO is invalid without 73s, and the arrival of the QSL card or other confirmation is enough for most meteor scatter operators. For most of us, seeing the other station calling CQ after we have all the other details is all the confirmation we need. A meteor shower only lasts a day or two so nobody stands on ceremony.

I was driven to write the above paragraph after reading quite a few snarky remarks on people's QRZ page along the lines of "If I didn't get your 73 you are not in my log". Well bully for you. I try to live in the real world. I love friendly expressions of good will but I don't penalise people for moving on to work some more DX.

So why not get out there and try? Meteor scatter is particularly accessible on 6m, and that HB9CV of mine is probably the minimum most people have. Even that log periodic you put up never thinking about meteor scatter would do. It isn't even the motorcycling season, so no excuses like that. Barefoot from a commercial transceiver (say 50 watts or so) should get some results on 6m or 4m. If you only have a low power licence it is still worth trying though you might have to pick strong signals to reply to. Especially on 2m, where long Yagis are narrower in beamwidth, you may have to pick your targets rather than call CQ. So listen first and see how others are doing it. Then just have a go..

A vertical or a dipole antenna may work on 6m but may not be so well liked by your amateur neighbours. If you use a vertical or dipole, stick to the same transmitting segment as the others around you or you will not be appreciated.

Really, anyone who can use FT8 can try MSK144. For this season, we have the Quadrantids shower to come. It peaks around 3 January. It is a broad shower so a week on either side can be productive, and that brings us close to the Ursids too. The Ursids are not very strong but occur on and around December 22. So the period between now and mid-January can be quite good, and it is often worth trying outside the shower peak during this time. Weekends are usually better, morning or late evening may be best. That would be best, but anytime is good. A modest antenna should bring stations 1000 to 1500km within range, with 2000km being about the maximum theoretically possible.

After mid-January there is usually a lull until April with just random meteor activity which falls to pretty low level in February and March. So now is the time to get going. Why not?





  1. Hello Jim, I tried MSK144 MS this time after reading your blog several times and got inspired. I've not experienced MS before but did many decodes. See my blog:


    And indeed I didn't send a 73 to S58P, but probabely my first and only MS QSO is a fact. Unfortunately can't find any e-mail adres to ask him if he thinks the QSO is valid. It was a nice experience...73, Bas

  2. Bas. I really appreciate your posting. Meteor scatter can be fun.
    I think that is a valid QSO. Others may think differently.
    Two thoughts may help.
    First WSJT-X always sets FTol at 20 by default, even though the user guide suggests setting it to 100. The photo in the user guide shows it set to 200. You can set it as high as your computer can manage (Your computer is OK if "Receiving" box bottom left hand of the MSK screen stays green). FTol is Frequency Tolerance on receive, or really your receive filter width. The wider it is the more it uses your computer power. If you call CQ and other stations are off your frequency you need a high FTol to decode them. Maybe we are all a few Hz off frequency. I recommend the highest FTol you can set for your computer, the default of 20 is too low.
    Second I set my Watchdog to 7 minutes for MSK144. You are waiting for calls from all sorts of meteors at all angles so maybe someone sees you, calls, and it can take many minutes for you to hear their reply. It can take a very long time, I have taken 3 hours to complete, but that is very unusual. Often 30 to 45 minutes so you need to transmit for long periods and be ready to wait for a long time to get the replies. I do 7 minutes at a time and then often click for another 7 minutes or even more.
    Well done. The first QSO I had I thought "that was good but I do not think I will do it again soon". Over time it gets easier. However, even now I might do well to get one QSO in an hour.
    I am glad you tried it and it shows that it can be done with a vertical (I think you have a vertical).
    Your blog is interesting. I hope to work you soon.
    Jim GM4FVM

    1. Hello Jim, I had several spots from Scotland so a MS QSO should be possible one day. I indeed use a vertical at 16m agl. I only tried 6m MS, should I have tried 2m as well? I knew it was taking time, but not it would take hours. Well, I might try it another time...thanks for the tips regarding the settings. 73, Bas

  3. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for the mention. I always enjoy reading your blog posts and the 11 tips you detail for MS are great and others would definitely find it useful.

    Interesting that you saw the RRR from YL2AO, however, I did not. I didn't consider it a completed QSO because of that but maybe I'll drop that station an email and ask for their opinion. Latvia in my 2m log using 10w would be brilliant.

    Speak soon and 73
    Neil (MI6XZZ)

  4. Bas. It should not take hours for a nearer station, but for DX it might take a long time. On 2m the pings are shorter but the antenna gain is higher. It is harder to do random on 2m but I do make it work. 2m seems best during a shower, for me anyway.
    Neil. I think you are doing very well. I still have a lot of countries to catch on 2m too.
    Best 73 for the New Year.
    Jim GM4FVM