Sometime later today or perhaps even into tomorrow, we may very well see the bands light up with distorted signals from all across VE-land, the northern US, and perhaps even some states south of the 40th parallel, if it’s truly a strong aurora. In an aurora opening, you can work grids that would be very difficult to work any other way. If you remember nothing else, you need to point your antennas NE thru NW, to work stations via aurora. This even applies to stations to your south, east or west. It’s truly a unique VHF experience.
If someone cares to share links or info about the technical aspects of aurora, I’d appreciate it. I know many readers here would, too.
What I can do here is take a few paragraphs to explain in practical terms why VHF’ers should know and care about what aurora does for propagation. Much of what I share is subjective.
It seems like we had a lot more aurora back in say 2004 – 2006. I honestly can’t remember the last big one.
When there’s eruptions on the surface of the sun, if they occur such that the energy is directed earthward, then we may have visible Northern Lights. We can also have enhancement on VHF.
It’s time to make sure your beams point north. 6m is (from what I recall) the best band for aurora. But 2m often lights up, too. I’d welcome comments from those who have worked 222 or 432 aurora. The signals will seem distorted. Some auroras have so much Doppler shift that SSB is basically unintelligible. Once you’ve heard it, you’ll never forget it. If all you can do is SSB, speak slowly and listen very carefully. CW does much better in aurora openings. It also helps to have more gain and more power. I suppose in a big aurora, little guns still work DX. I hope we’ll get some stories when this event has passed.
If you’re monitoring the bands closely today, be aware of your beacons. They may indicate aurora before any humans get on. Here’s two beacon lists you can bookmark: http://www.keele.ac.uk/depts/por/50.htm and http://www.newsvhf.com/beacons2.html There’s several 6m beacons in N WI and MN, plus the U.P. of MI. Pay attention to the ones in the lower portion of the 6m beacon band from Canada. Those are often your first indication.
If you want to know if 144 or 222 MHz is open, then pay special attention to the N8PUM beacons on 144.278 and 222.057 MHz, located in EN66al, near Marquette, MI. Brandon has those beacons hooked up to yagis pointed north. You won’t hear them most of the time, but if there’s aurora, then they’re perfect. What a great idea.
A few closing aurora tips… aurora can show up on the bands very suddenly. It can occur during the day or night. You do not have to have visible northern lights to enjoy aurora on radio. I have worked openings where I wasn’t seeing northern lights and I’ve seen beautiful displays where the band wasn’t open. What I’m trying to say is that the times don’t always mesh perfectly.
You can have aurora go away for a while, and come back. Many aurora (au for short) openings come in waves. Just because one wave dies out, don’t assume it’s over.
You should experiement with your beam headings. Sometimes NW is favored; sometimes NE; sometimes close to due north is fine. I can recall au openings where I had nothing while looking NE and then by the time I got to NW, someone would be roaring in. Or vice versa.