Solar Analysis Paralysis

There’s been an increase in chatter – of the signal intelligence kind – about the looming solar minimum and what may (or may not) follow it. The uptick in interest and associated gloomy talk is probably related to this recent Forbes article suggesting a bleak future for HF propagation of a favored variety.

This only comes as a “surprise” to those not paying attention. In fact,  It wasn’t long ago that same news source announced, Sun Flatlining Into Grand Minimum.

The last few solar cycles have been so anemic that it has raised concerns about what most had come to expect as predictably normal. Still, the recent stretch with few or no sunspots is unusual, but not completely unexpected.

We’ve been talking about the possibility of a Maunder event for most of the 21st century.

Apparently, many HF enthusiasts have chosen to ignore the data and hope for the “best”. Wishes don’t help and neither do the clueless who often chime into the conversation to say, “don’t worry, in my fifty years of radio activity I’ve seen solar highs and lows, and this too, will pass”.

It probably won’t.

I mean, fifty years in the hobby seems a long time, until you compare it with the 4.5 billion years the Sun has been doing its thing. Sure, we have patterns recorded from the last few hundred years and so long as our star behaves typically then it becomes predictable.

But as soon as it goes off script, all bets are off.

We can’t do anything about the Sun, but we can modify our radio relationship with it. In the same way that investors build diverse portfolios resistant to downturns in a single segment, there are things we can do to minimize risks.

Propagation on 10, 12, 15, 17 and to some extent, 20 meters is negatively impacted by a quiet Sun. Meanwhile, 160 and 80 meters might be enhanced. Don’t have gear or antennas for the low-bands? Time to make an adjustment to your equipment and antenna portfolios.

We have HF spectrum resistant to future conditions, it’s just not of the ‘toss a wire in a tree and easily work DX with one watt’ variety that we have enjoyed in the old days.

It’s going to require more real estate for antennas and more power for HF success in the new millennium so there’s no reason to worry yourself sick about our future. Ham radio can continue to exist with the Sun devoid of sunspots and perpetual solar minimum on Earth.

But if you’re inclined to worry, worry about this: will we still want to play in that new reality?

Author: Jeff Davis