On May 29, 2020, there was a solar flare on the Sun that was the biggest seen since September 6, 2017. This series of flares reached the “M” level, which is a fairly strong flare. The plot below shows X-ray strengths from the Sun as observed by the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) satellite. X-rays are measured in two wavelengths by this satellite and the spikes in X-ray flux levels show flare occurrences. Flare strengths are measured on a log scale and rated as A, B, C, M, and X strengths. Each level is 10 times higher than the level below it. An X flare for example is 10,000 times stronger than an A flare. Flares happen when the legs of magnetic loops sticking out of the suns surface come together and “short out” the loop, releasing the tremendous amount of energy stored in the loop. Perhaps the Sun is finally moving into the next sunspot cycle?
MHO will be closed to members and the public until the State of Michigan gives us the green light to open again for normal operations. Per these requirements, we plan to reopen on May 28. We have been conducting committee and general meetings via teleconference while social distancing restrictions are in effect. Please keep checking back for the latest news!
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MHAS is involved in a solar flare search program sponsored by Stanford University and The Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers (SARA) SuperSID Program. This program monitors for the effects of solar flares on the ionosphere of the earth. A number of Very Low Frequency (VLF) stations operated by various navies of the world are transmitting continuous streams of data to submarines and surface ships. These signals are in the 15-45 kHz frequency range and have wavelengths of 7 to 20 km (By way of comparison, AM radio uses wavelengths of 200-500 m and FM wavelengths are on the order of 3 m).
The main advantage of VLF for navies is that it penetrates seawater much better than shorter wavelengths. Thus submarines can receive these signals while submerged at moderate depths. When a solar flare occurs, the sun emits a huge amount of X-rays and earth’s ionosphere is strongly ionized. When this happens, the signals from the VLF stations jump in amplitude and then slowly decrease back to the ambient level. Such spikes in signal strength may last from 1-3 hours.
Receiving equipment is simple, a computer sound card that can detect frequencies as high as 48 kHz is used. In addition, a 40×40 cm square receiving loop of around 100 turns feeds a preamp whose output supplies the signal for the sound card. The preamp and wire for the loop is supplied by the SuperSID program. Software running on the computer from SuperSID logs data from multiple stations simultaneously and records signal strengths every 5 seconds. At midnight GMT the data from all the active monitor stations are uploaded to a central database and may be viewed at: http://sid.stanford.edu/database-browser/
Members Ken Redcap and Tom Hagen are teaching an eight week Python 3 computer coding class to middle school students at the Rochester Hills Public Library. Classes are offered in the RHPL maker space known as the “Eureka Lab”. The Eureka Lab kindly hosts our class there on Thursdays for 8 week sessions. We have conducted 3 sessions starting earlier in 2019 and will be starting the next session on January 2, 2020. We accommodate 10 students at a time and we teach basic elements of the Python 3 language for 1 hour. The first half of the class is devoted to Python coding on laptops in an integrated development environment (IDE). The IDE we use is called “Mu” and is intended for beginning programmers. The second half of the class uses the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express (CPE) development board. The CPE is programmed over a USB cable and a different project is run each week of the class. Some of the projects are; infrared remote control, musical capacitive touch piano, servo motor drive, and many more.
The 2019 Detroit MakerFaire was held at the Henry Ford on July 27-28. This was the second MakerFaire we have attended. Marty Kunz, Ken Redcap, Jim Shedlowsky, and Tom Hagen manned our tent located directly across from the clock tower on the front lawn of the museum. Included in our display were:
- Solar White Light Telescope
- 1.42 GHz horn antenna (pictured) for detecting the neutral hydrogen 21 cm line from the Milky Way
- Fresnel lens for using the sun’s energy to burn pieces of wood and asphalt
- Adafruit Circuit Playground Express development boards that MHAS volunteers use to teach Python classes to children at the Rochester Hills Public Library
Dave was an active volunteer at MHO and he and his talents will be missed. His work on the SuperSID project of the Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers (SARA) helped add to the scientific legacy of the observatory. Dave was on the Board of Directors of SARA also. He is remembered for being an enthusiastic mentor to many DIYers from places as far as Uruguay. He also shared his knowledge and experience freely with anyone who sought his help and expertise in radio astronomy.
Pat Seitzer recalls, “I had dinner with a South African friend who was putting a SID setup together in Johannesburg. He had some questions, so I suggested he email Dave. Turned out he already had and Dave was most helpful. It really is a small world. My friend was very impressed with Dave’s knowledge and willingness to help.”
Being an avid ham radio operator, Dave was a member of the Hazel Park (MI) Amateur Radio Club. He also was a member of the University Low Brow Astronomers club at the University of Michigan. Earlier in life he obtained his Master’s Degree in Counseling & Guidance from Michigan State University. He served at Chrysler for 20 years as a Supplier Quality Specialist. His survivors include his wife of 41 years, Joanne, son David R. Benham Jr., and daughter-in-law, Anne Marie.
Some excellent work on upgrading some infrastructure at the observatory has been taken on by Matthew Visnaw and others.
An intense geomagnetic storm brought some bright auroras to local observers. This followed an impact by a coronal mass ejection (CME) around 2:00 pm EDT on October 24th, 2011.
Watch the video from an observer in Martin, MI: