Modern Maunder

I’m not a solar astronomer and I don’t study the magnetohydrodynamic flows of the Sun’s interior. I’m a shortwave radio operator who has lived through several solar cycles and I believe that we’ve entered a protracted period of greatly reduced solar activity.

And it’s not just me…

Data Suggest Smaller Solar Cycles Lie Ahead
– Blank Sun—Mini Ice Age?
– ‘Winter Is Coming’ Warns The Solar Physicist The Alarmists Tried To Silence
– We’re entering a ‘solar minimum’ — what it means, and how it influenced 2015
– Sun’s eerie spot-free appearance indicates beginning of solar minimum
– Climate science debates find their place in the Sun
– Incredible image shows solar activity at its quietest in 100 years

This affects the short wave spectrum on Earth and makes radio conditions on some of our most popular frequencies difficult, if not impossible, to use. I frequently refer to this condition as a Modern Maunder – owing to the Maunder Minimum — the name used for the period starting in about 1645 and continuing to about 1715 when sunspots became exceedingly rare, as noted by solar observers of the time.

Most radio amateurs reject this notion, preferring to remain “positive” that conditions will somehow improve. I’m much less optimistic, though that could be because I have fewer years of ham radio time left in front of me than the number of years already passed. Thirty years of sub-optimal band conditions probably means that HF activity as I’ve known it, will forever be beyond my operational horizon.

I maintain a certain (morbid) curiosity about what this will mean, long-term, for the hobby. Will HF enthusiasts give up, defeated? Will we abandon HF and migrate entirely to the radio spectrum at VHF and above? Will DXing and Radio Contesting go the way of the spark-gap transmitter? What will become of the QRPers?

We can’t do anything to coax the Sun to crank up its activity, but there are plenty of other options for activity available to the fraternity. The real question is, will we avail ourselves of those options or is such wholesale change not possible for men of a certain age?

Before you write to tell me about all the great DX you’ve worked at previous solar minimums understand this, despite generally abysmal band conditions on 20 thru 10 meters, and to a lesser degree, 30 and 40 meters, there will still be times when the bands open up to some particular part of the planet. Limited communication will continue on these higher frequencies. But over time, I believe we will come to see openings on 20-10 meters more like openings on 6 meters – rare with long periods of quiet time between activity.

[The low-bands being the exception. 160 and 80 meters will remain reliable and consistent night time bands, especially during the Fall and Winter seasons. Big antennas, and copious amounts of power will transform these into an oasis for parched HF enthusiasts.]

Given what I expect to be limited opportunities at HF, I’ve mostly moved to VHF and higher and am back to chasing satellites and collecting equipment needed to assemble an EME station. I use IRLP for repeater linking over long distances and am becoming involved with high speed networking and with high altitude balloon projects.

Amateur radio provides endless opportunities for adventure even without the cooperation of the high frequencies, and given the impact of the ‘Modern Maunder’, that’s a very good thing.

It’s time to begin making other arrangements.

73, Jeff KE9V