Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A little science and wonder

This is my latest editorial for the ham club newsletter, Ø-Beat (zero beat for non-hams):

Ever since I was a child, rainbows have fascinated me. I was awed by the arcing bridge of colors floating up in the sky like a promise of adventure, but I had no idea that not all those varicolored bridges are rainbows. Some of them are circumzenithal arcs (CZA). Now, say that three times fast. They’re also called ice halos and can be best seen when the sun is low on the horizon. It looks like an upside-down rainbow with the center of the bow like a cup beneath the sun and the red arc always on the outside.

In science class, I learned that the prismatic effect of sunlight through raindrops is what creates rainbows. In my recent searched through the Internet I discovered that sunlight reflected through ice crystals floating through high clouds produces just the right conditions for CZAs. With all the snow we’ve been getting lately I wonder that I haven’t seen a CZA yet, but maybe I’m not looking at the sky at the right time. But the magic and color show doesn’t stop with CZAs. There’s more.

Ever hear of sundogs? I didn’t until I stumbled across a picture of the Mongolian CZA. Sundogs are those bright circular spots, solar halos, that looks like miniature suns but are a sort of mirror effect from the same icy cirrus or cirrostratus clouds drifting through the cold gray sky. In my opinion, it’s just one more reason to love winter – besides the cold.

And then there are circular rainbows, that most elusive and rarest of sights. Several years ago as I came out of Radio Shack, I saw a circular rainbow hovering in the rainy gray sky. It was a perfect halo of light and color and I couldn’t stop staring. I stopped people on the sidewalk and pointed to the sky like Chicken Little, except I wasn’t trying to convince anyone the sky was falling. People moved away from me like I was a lunatic, but I kept my eyes on that rainbow even after I got into my car to drive back to work, following that rainbow all the way across the west side of Columbus, Ohio. I pulled into the parking lot at work and shared my news to the whole office. Most of my co-workers shook their heads and went back to work. The rest followed me outside to see . . . nothing. The rain gathered strength and pelted us with icy drops and I stood there alone looking up into the sky, hoping for a glimpse of that circle of brilliant color.

The physics of how and why rainbows exist doesn’t lessen the magic for me, rather I appreciate rainbows more and now I know when and where to look for circular rainbows, circumzenithal arcs and sundogs. I know what the combination of weather and the sun can do, as not only a feast for the eyes and the soul, but also how it affects propagation and radio waves and our ability to reach out across town or across the world and hear voices.

The sun has gone through some changes since last month, putting on a bit of a show. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) reported, “…a solar prominence gracefully [rising] up above the surface[. It] spun around a little, formed an arc, and eventually dissipated along magnetic field lines over a two-day period (March 22-23, 2008). Powerful magnetic forces that emerge from below the Sun's surface generate these prominences. The charged plasma spins along these magnetic lines, revealing them in extreme UV light. Sometimes these prominences erupt and break away from the Sun - this one seem[ed] to elongate and disappear.”

According to K7RA, the combination of a nearly two-week run of sunspots and the spring season make for very good HF conditions. Sunspot activity peaked March 26-29 and has dropped back to zero, but don’t despair. We have had a slow start, but sunspot activity is following the predicted pattern and will increase to a phenomenal high in 2011. You don’t have to wait that long to benefit from the sun’s effect on our skies. There are always sundogs, circumzenithal arcs and circular rainbows. Check out the web version of the Ø-Beat and feast your eyes.

And there is more news on the spring horizon, and I don’t mean the fact that if you look outside spring is getting ready to bust out all around us.

If you haven’t been checking the PPRAA reflector, you may have missed the news of recent changes. Jim Harris ABØUK has retired from the scene and all club activities and Ken Sheehan KGØADV has stepped down as Vice President, both due to health concerns. Jim received the PPRAA Lifetime Achievement Award last year for all his hard work and for his exceptional volunteer contributions over the years, setting an example for those who will follow him and try to fill his shoes. Ken distinguished himself early as an avid proponent of the PPRAA, urging members to get involved. Jim and Ken’s input leave a void.

One thing you won’t see on the reflector is the news that on April 23rd Jess Miley KØTAA, a long time fixture in the Colorado Springs amateur radio community as a technician and business owner, celebrates his 80th birthday.

The last bit of news is my own. After 2-1/2 years of editing this newsletter, I have decided to step down and let someone else run the show. I had originally intended to stick around until the end of the year but my schedule is filling up with personal appearances, readings and interviews for two of the eight books coming out this year that include my stories. The first two, Cup of Comfort for Single Mothers and Chicken Soup for the Adopted Soul, are already available online and in the bookstores. The books are collections of stories from more than fifty other writers, like me, who share a little piece of their lives and experiences. I have agreed to pop in every occasionally with a column, so I will be gone but hopefully not completely forgotten.

During my time as editor, I have made some changes to the newsletter, and hopefully to the way you think of and feel about the PPRAA. I have hounded, begged, cajoled and blackmailed some of you to get articles to fill these pages. If you doubt me, talk to Shel Radin KFØUR or Steve Williams KØSRW about how tenacious I can be in pursuit of content to fill the newsletter. Of course, as editor, I couldn’t just accept their words without adding a bit of spit and polish to make them shine. Admittedly, I didn’t have to use a lot of spot or polish, but I did feel I needed to earn the title of editor by actually editing.

My last column as editor (I can hear the celebrations and corks popping already) will appear in the July issue of this newsletter. By then I look forward to meeting the new editor and offering him my assistance to make the transition easier. Whoever the editor is, I do hope you will give him the same attention and assistance you have given me over the past 2+ years.

Being editor of this newsletter has been an experience I won't soon forget. It has given me a chance to display my ignorance of electronics with a smile and to get to know some of you better. I will continue as a member of the PPRAA and the VE team, but will watch quietly (most of the time) from the sidelines while the rest of you take up the torch and keep it burning while you run with it. Without you, nothing continues and I would hate to see the Ø-Beat go the way of the Mountain Amateur Radio Club’s newsletter and be consigned to oblivion. Editing the newsletter takes a considerable amount of time and effort, but it is worth it because this newsletter, and all the amateur radio club newsletters like it, keeps us connected and reminds us that things are not so different anywhere else in the country, or in the world. We are all licensed amateur radio operators who work hard when it’s needed, volunteer when we can and keep people communicating in times of trouble and disaster. We are the silent minority who, out of curiosity and a love of science and adventure, stride out into the world and push the boundaries of technology, and I am proud to be one of you.

73 as always…
Jackie Cornwell ACØCA

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