Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Overnight DX

This is the season for colds and other virus infections. Such is my plight. One of the downsides is disturbed sleep cycles. But, as they say, when you are given lemons you should make lemonade. So when I found myself wide awake and feeling miserable at 3 AM last night I decided to head to the shack and check out the bands.

There have been some interesting openings this past week due to the equinox and quiet geomagnetic conditions. Much of this passed me by since the bulk of my operating must be in the evening. The polar paths in particular have been intriguing due to the northern route coinciding with the gray line (path along the sunrise or sunset terminator).

When I turned on the radio the very first thing I noticed was the immense quiet. No computers, no lighting and no appliances to spray their debris across the HF bands. It was wonderful. Even the weakest signals were a pleasure to copy.

Since the MUF seemed to fall below 18 MHz the only bands available to me were 20 and 30 meters. I expect the lower bands were also quite good but without antennas for them I did not go there. On these two bands the open propagation paths favoured east and west.

Europeans were scattered here and there. When they did transmit they were quite strong. These were for the most part DXers, not casual operators. That is, they were most likely scanning the bands for attractive DX in the brief period between waking up and heading off to work.

On the other side of the world it was the end of the work day and early evening. VK7CW on Tasmania has a nice strong signal. After losing out to a few Europeans I had a short pleasant QSO with my 10 watts. On this path the inverted vee outperformed the dipole -- likely due to its greater height. While this may sound surprising this was my first VK using my new station. QRP to the other side of the planet requires low competition (from North America at least) and good propagation. This time both were in my favour.

On 30 meters the story was very similar. There were eager Europeans snapping up the available DX in their short morning operating period. As can be seen above, this was shortly after sunrise in western Europe when the low bands experience an enhancement. On 30 meters this can last an hour or two, and gets progressively shorter as one descends in frequency.

After working CY0P the previous evening on 30 meters I was eager for the challenge. The only station that interested me was another VK, this time VK4DX, with a strong signal. He was perfectly workable with my QRP but he was focused on working Europe. It was disappointing but I did not call out of turn. I am sure that if I'd found a frequency and called CQ I could have worked a number of European stations. Except by then I was ready to give sleep another chance and I shut down the station.

In addition to CY0P, the previous evening displayed some good conditions to select areas of southeast Asia. This is evident in the following picture which shows the terminator around the time I was operating.

In particular 9M6XRO had a nice strong signal on 17 meters, even with my simple inverted vee. Notice that 9M is right on the sunrise terminator.

He would have been easy to work if only I had more power. Even so I appreciate the lengthy effort he made to try and pull me through. That's ok, it's simply a challenge to anticipate for another day. I had more success working D2EB, so the evening session was still worthwhile.

Pay attention to the terminator and the path of propagation through areas of light and dark. If you have a small signal similar to you can log some great DX by target times when propagation is most favourable, and when your domestic competition is literally asleep. From time to time step outside your habitual operating pattern. While big stations can "make" DX propagation, little ones should intelligently target advantageous times and frequencies.

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