Saturday, September 26, 2009

SOLAR on cycle 24

In October 2006 NASA launched the Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO), part of the NASA Solar Terrestrial Probes program. STEREO is a two-year mission that uses two nearly identical satellites - one ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind - to provide the first-ever three dimensional observations to study both the Sun and its coronal mass ejections. Of particular interest to amateurs, however, is that SOLAR's unique perspective allows astronomers to detect sunspots before they're visible here on earth. And we all know that as sunspots increase, so too does propagation.

So what is SOLAR telling us? According to the ARRL, sunspot numbers for September 17 through 23 were 0, 0, 0, 0, 11, 26 and 31, with a mean of 9.7. So is this the beginning of the long awaited solar cycle 24? Perhaps not. The Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Panel at NASA now agrees that the last solar minimum occurred in December, 2008, but in the words of the panel the next cycle is shaping up to be "the lowest of any cycle since 1928."

"In our professional careers, we've never seen anything quite like it," says Dave Pesnell from the Goddard Space Flight Center and NASA's lead representative on the panel. "Solar minimum has lasted far beyond the date we predicted in 2007."

Right now the prediction is that solar cycle 24 will peak in May 2013 with a below-average number of sunspots, providing only modest propagaton enhancement.

What's a ham to do? My suggestion -- tune up the antenna, invest in a beam, levage gray line propagation, enjoy the hobby, and let the sun take care of itself.

-Steve KB3IHX

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