Project Aurora

I first began my aurora endeavors in early 1995. Or at least this was the time when I truly started to put vhf radio aurora at the pinnacle of my ham radio career. At that time, I often wondered what life would be like, directly below the northern polar aurora oval.

Pre-1995 was a world just on the verge of the Internet explosion, and real-time data at vhf was just what you happen to hear via word-of-mouth. There seemed to be little in the way of information regarding long-term vhf auroral studies at high latitudes. I suppose it was then, I decided to have a “look for myself.”

In the early years, my wife (Kim) and I began a series of vacations, and small trips with our radio equipment, traveling to northern WØ, and southern VE., in search for both visual and radio aurora. This was good for awhile, however, it became relevant that we needed to be much more to the north of where we began. In fact, armed with just books from the public library, (yes there was such a thing before the Internet) of which were poorly outdated solar physics references, I came up with some figures.

It seemed at the time, to be certain of visual aurora on a nightly basis, one needed to be located at roughly 55-59 degrees north.

With this noted, I tried to come up with some locales that were the shortest driving distance from our home qth. I was quick to find out, the problem was just finding roadways at those latitudes. The result was simple and I instantly new this was the place I needed to be (now I had to convince Kim that this was a good place).

I tend to describe this trip in-particular, as it was our first true aurora oval experience, and that is putting it mildly. The location was about 175 miles northwest of Lynn Lake, MB., or roughly 1,000 road miles northwest of the city of Winnipeg. Situated nearly at 68 degrees geomagnetic, this was the perfect spot to view and research the aurora. Not only were we directly beneath a nightly display of intense visual aurora, but imagine the excitement on six meters when I began calling de DO97 on cw!

Since then, Kim and I have devoted nearly 100% of our free time, (and then some) towards traveling and viewing/working the aurora in the North. We have now operated from over 140 grid squares, from northern W, VE, KL7, and recently JW. To give the viewer some idea what we do, below is a crude, but somewhat accurate, description of our facilities, equipment, past experiences, radio results, and scientific achievements from the past half decade.

Radio Contacts:

Perhaps it is much easier to view the attached map. It is hard to remember all the hours spent in a cold, dark, environment when nothing ever happened. I can remember times when the solar flux was 64 (repeat 64), and there was little solar activity. I kept saying to myself, “what ‘am I doing?” Sometimes whole vacations would go-by with not one contact. However, the opposite is also true. I have been lucky enough to have been at “the right place, at the right time.” I saw a Kp of 8 while above the 56th, was near York Factory on the great storm of April 7, 1999, saw a wonderful visual sub storm from BP65, and even lucky enough to work some OH’s from JW (how can one beat that?).

Since I’m running out of time, I’m going to just leave you with some instances that happened while searching this thing called aurora. They are just moments in time, that I think the public may find interesting.

  1. Recall hearing VE8BY/b for the first time via aurora. It was just past one o’clock in afternoon, with bright sunshine. As VE8BY/b is fsk, and under aurora rasp it can get very broad, I remember thinking to myself, “how can there be computer noise out here in the bush?” (Imagine my surprise)
  2. Driving back to our lodge at 3:30am in the morning in Northwest Ontario, and having three, First Nation’s (Aboriginal) women flag us down for a ride to town. Their truck had crashed and they needed a ride, so there I was, unhooking all the power equipment behind the seat, and making room so we could all ride together. The conversation was slow, until one women asked us what we where doing with all those antennae in the middle of the night? My response was, “have you ever heard of Bigfoot?” She laughed out loud in reply.
  3. Tuning up on 50.125 (to a dead band in EO30) and proclaiming, “is the frequency in use?” To which was overly surprised to hear a KL7 reply at S-9, “I haven’t heard that in thirty years.”
  4. Having a leaf spring break on our camper, leaving it useless at over 1,000 miles north of the city of Winnipeg (thinking, “if we could just get back to the pavement”).
  5. Mounting the antenna in EO36 during a blizzard at night, I had to tie a rope around my waist when I left the vehicle, so I could find my return.
  6. Having a filling station attendant look puzzled at my mobile array and asking if I was going to “drop that into a tornado?”
  7. Having a W8 ask me while I was hearing the VE4VHF/b, if it was long path or short path.
  8. Remember VE8JL asking me on cw what part of Europe KGØ was in.
  9. Having the visual aurora confined to the extreme southern horizon.
  10. Listening to what appeared to be a game of “bingo” on 94mhz FM, originating from the North, and spoken in Dene or Inuit at full quieting.
  11. Having a RCMP officer stop me with red lights flashing, saying I was going the wrong way to the airplane crash.

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