Saturday, 15 May 2021

Aurora! DX Sporadic E! Doing the treble, again!

What is the excitement all about, a seasoned HF operator might say. Sure, don't these things happen every year?

Well, no. We have not seen an aurora here for several years. And an aurora often predicts an upturn on Sporadic E. As it is early in May it would be a bit unusual to have a lot of Es right now. But that is what happened.

Doing the treble again : first the Aurora.

As usual, Solarham correctly predicted the arrival of the aurora, so I had 24 hours notice. I was hoping for some auroral contacts and some Es afterwards. What was not predicted was just how strong the effects actually were. This type of prediction is still developing. The speed of the particles and the magnetic orientation they have when they arrive are still largely a matter of guesswork. This uncertainty is why we need to be on our guard for a big one which could damage communications and power supplies on Earth. In the event the K number went to 6 and possibly more.

It started here around 14:00 on 12 May and on SSB I worked GM4JYB. I was pleased to get a call from GI0OWA to make it two DXCC. A lot of the action was on CW and I heard quite a bit on 2m including an OZ. As my sending is hopeless now I refrained from answering.

I also heard a GM station calling CQ so quickly that I could not make out the rest of their callsign. Some G stations do the same, whereas Scandinavian operators generally seem to go more slowly in the difficult conditions. I always think that working aurora requires pretty slow morse as the signal is always distorted.

The aurora cycle on Earth is tied to the solar one and that explains why we have missed them during the solar minimum. Hopefully now we will see more of them. The wisdom in the books suggests that the aurora cycle runs two years behind the solar one, with a later peak too. Fingers crossed.

The point about the aurora was not what I heard or worked, but that it often precedes better conditions on the Sporadic E front. No point watching weather charts when an aurora had shown me that I should watch out for a Sporadic E opening, even in mid-May. And what an opening!

Secondly the 4m and 6m Es opening.

13 May was packed on 6m from start to finish. There were 894 pages of decodes on my WSJT-X log, each page totalling 52 entries, plus 32 on the final page, a total of 46,520 spots decoded here on my (temporary?) 6m two element. Taking 6 spots per QSO - though sometimes as few as 4 suffice - and maybe 4 more CQs unanswered per contact - there were not many unanswered CQs - that makes more than 4,500 QSOs. Those were just the ones I heard. I am not about to count them individually. So I have little to say other than there was too much going on with 6m for me to describe it here. Not bad for early May.

50MHz contacts at GM4FVM on 13 May 2021

As usual click to enlarge if necessary.

I mostly stayed clear on 4m. For all the activity there were no new countries and only one new square (KO28). I still enjoyed it.

70MHz contacts at GM4FVM on 13 May 2021

As befits a sizeable opening caused by solar action it was still going on 14 May.

50MHz contacts at GM4FVM on 14 May 2021

As is apparent from the map, I tend to use my time on 6m now by ferreting about finding unusual places to work - like the Azores or Gibraltar. A nice one was a new DXCC in Morocco. I heard CN8LI so many times over the years when I used 6m WSPR that is seemed odd that CN was a missing one for me. Well, I got that sorted on 14 May. So for me 6m is a sort of pointer for what I look for on 4m and 2m.

As usual I spent my time on 70MHz, always keeping an eye out on 2m just in case some brief opening would occur on 2m. I tend to find those 2m Es openings in June and July, but you never know...

70MHz contacts at GM4FVM on 14 May 2021

It is becoming clear from those maps that my new policy of concentrating on frequencies higher than 50MHz is having its effect on my activity pattern. There has always been a habit of mine not to do so much on 6m. For the first 10 years of my amateur radio hobby 6m was not available to me, and even when it was permitted the number of European stations to work was initially quite small. I did not really get active until about 2010, and it has, somehow, never found a place in my heart. Sure I still use it, but it just seems too crowded for me (!!!). Well, it was for the past two days.

The presence of a "French" station on 4m was a bit of a surprise. I have worked France several times 4m/6m cross band. This was somebody with /EXP after his callsign. He thanked some of the stations for helping him with his "trial". Was this legal? I do not know. I cannot vouch for the legality of all the stations I work. They should be legal, but we shall see about this one. Any station we work could turn out to be a pirate, we never know, do we?

And finally the cream on the cake ...

Suddenly, at about 14:00 on 14 May, 144MHz took off.

144MHz contacts at GM4FVM on 14 May 2021

I had decoded one G station in the hour to 13:00, and only decoded three in the following hour, and so far I had worked nobody at all. Then suddenly EA1NL popped up at +17dB. IN52 at 1569km was a new square. Then EB1DJ in the same square.  This was followed ten minutes later by EA4BDL in IM69, 1850km and another new square.

After the first three contacts there was a 20 minute gap and total silence - I even heard nothing from G-land which is only 10km away. I then put out one CQ and back came EA1AF at +13dB. 1658km in IN71, and a third new square. Brilliant.

And finally I worked EA7HLB who is 2145km from here. I had worked him before, in August 2019. Still, I am not complaining.

Five QSOs (one of the stations was worked twice) in a nine hour 2m a day, and all in Spain. Three new squares and my 2m Es record equalled. Now, that makes all the time spent on 6m and 4m worth while for me. Just waiting to "do the treble" by working Spain moving up the spectrum on three bands is my goal. Following the propagation up and down is what I do this for.

I will work anybody in EA who wants to work me. Since I came here 12 years ago I have now only worked mainland EA on 2m on 6 occasions, a total of 13 stations (four of those for the first time yesterday). I had to wait almost ten years for the first one, by which time I had already managed to work EA8. There is something about EA which is tricky for me. I really savour each contact. CT is even harder. 

So that was me doing the treble. EA on Es on three VHF bands in one day.

This is really the sort of thing I strive for. Using the bands as steps and stairs to climb the frequencies is my thing. I still recall my first 2m Es from here, working EU7AA back in June 2011. That was 2070km and stood as a personal record for years. 

That day in 2011 too I had stepped up from working east on 6m to contacts into the Baltic on 4m and eventually to Belarus on 2m. Not quite the same country, but the same idea. Almost doing the treble but not quite, as Belarus did not have either of the lower bands. I decided to make it harder in future - three stations on three VHF bands in one country in one day. Of course doing the treble with locals does not count, it has to be at least a 500km+ series of QSOs.

Since then I have done the treble on 4m/2m/70cms tropo too but that is hardly the same challenge. With tropo you usually have time measured in hours, with 2m Es you usually have five minutes to complete it. Yesterday was unusual in that I was hearing various EA stations over a 50 minute period, albeit with a 20 minute gap in the middle. The trick with 4m/2m/70cms tropo is to get 4m tropo to work, because tropo is not good at lower frequencies.

So working 2m DX is not enough for me. With Es I try to build my way from 6m, working up as I go to see if I can find the propagation to go further. I have done the 6m/4m/2m treble in one day several times now. First with Italy, then with Croatia, and now with Spain. While doing it on tropo is not quite such a challenge, I did it on 6 May 2020 on 2m/70cms/23cms with one single station, OZ2ND. While it was not a one-station version this time, I did work EA1AF on both 4m and 2m yesterday - a station double within a country treble.

What is the point? Well it shows me how propagation moves up and own the bands - broadly speaking Es goes upwards reaching the highest frequency at its height of activity, whereas tropo moves downwards, generally peaking on the higher bands I use. I am curious about how this all works.

The mystery, the unknown timing, and the probability of nothing at all happening is what keeps me going. But most of all, the sudden nature of it all gives me enjoyment. For all the expensive gear anyone could have, nature has the final say. We are powerless to control nature, but we can try to learn about it. Learn to follow the solar activity, learn about the passage of tropo systems, learn some science and learn some patience.

For now, it is over. The Es has gone. Will I ever do it again? Who knows?

An auroral treble? Hmmm. Not with my CW.

Just follow the available information and you shall find Sporadic E.



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