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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

NA5N, a Solar Flare, and the Very Large Array


I think I said before that Paul, NA5N, has one of those "dream jobs" for a radio amateur.  Confirmation of this came in a message he posted to QRP-L today: 

We're running a special experiment today using the VLA antennas to observe at 74 MHz (a protected radio astronomy band) and at 327 MHz.  We've hung dipoles just below the antenna subreflectors, acting as a virtual ground, and of course the 88ft dia. dishes to illuminate the dipoles.  Picks up a lot more power from the sky than I would have thought (about 30dB gain over the same dipoles in free space). 
Anyway, about 0830 MST, suddenly the system temperature climbed about 200 deg. K.  Our switched power calibration injected into the LNAs showed no shift, meaning the jump in power came from the sky, not from the electronics.  The power plot looked just like a solar flare.  Checked the NOAA site, and sure enough, we had an M4 solar flare from region 1618 ... about smack in the center of the sun.  About 1530UTC=0830MST=1030EST, Wed. Nov. 21. 
NOAA has since measured the shock wave from the CME at 1918 km/sec.  This is a fairly strong shock wave, and coming from the center of the sun means planet earth will be pretty close to the bulls eye. 
The first time in my life I witnessed a major solar flare in real time watching the "sky power" plots.  Pretty neat.  First time the astronomers involved in this experiment have witnessed a solar flare as well real time. 
Region 1618 has produced numerous C- and M-class flares past couple of days with high potentials of future activity.  This will ionize our E/F layer for elevated MUF and weak signal reflection.  Check the bands if you're not at work. 
This 1918 km/sec. shock wave headed for us will almost assuredly trigger a major geomagnetic storm in a couple of days.  If it hits Friday evening, it will trigger likely aurora over northern U.S.  It may hit Saturday.  I'll check the NOAA predictions later today and post as to the expected shock wave arrival. 
72, Paul NA5N
Socorro, NM
Currently inside of VLA antenna #5, west arm.
http://www.vla.nrao.edu/ 


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