Tag Archives: CW

Telegraph operations in the Great Auroral Storm of 1859

Sunspots of September 1, 1859, as sketched by Richard Carrington A and B mark the initial positions of an intensely bright event, which moved over the course of 5 minutes to C and D before disappearing. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

These days, CMEs and solar flares get a great deal of media attention. But it’s mostly speculation–for even with our advanced abilities to measure the potential impact, we can’t be sure what will happen each time this occurs. Might this solar flare be strong enough to damage our satellites and electrical infrastructure? we may wonder. Could it ‘fry’ our electrical grid?

The concerns are merely speculative. But is there actual cause for concern? Surely. A massive solar flare could damage much of our technology in space–such as our satellites–and could also certainly cause headaches for those who manage our electrical grids.

But do we know how powerful solar events can be? History may hold the answer.

In September of 1859, a solar flare was so massive that there were newspaper reports of it across the globe, and many found the strange light it created baffling. Of course, now, there’s no speculation as to what happened then–eyewitness accounts and plenty of written evidence in this pre-internet era paint a clear picture of a massive coronal ejection. This event has been referenced many times as a benchmark–one that, should it happen now, would certainly give us serious pause.  Technologically, that is.

I happened upon a fantastic article about the 1859 flare on ARS Technica called: 1859’s “Great Auroral Storm”—the week the Sun touched the earth.

The following is an excerpt:

It hit quickly. Twelve hours after Carrington’s discovery and a continent away, “We were high up on the Rocky Mountains sleeping in the open air,” wrote a correspondent to the Rocky Mountain News. “A little after midnight we were awakened by the auroral light, so bright that one could easily read common print.” As the sky brightened further, some of the party began making breakfast on the mistaken assumption that dawn had arrived.

Across the United States and Europe, telegraph operators struggled to keep service going as the electromagnetic gusts enveloped the globe. In 1859, the US telegraph system was about 20 years old, and Cyrus Field had just built his transatlantic cable from Newfoundland to Ireland, which would not succeed in transmitting messages until after the American Civil War.

“Never in my experience of fifteen years in working telegraph lines have I witnessed anything like the extraordinary effect of the Aurora Borealis between Quebec and Farther Point last night,” wrote one telegraph manager to the Rochester Union & Advertiser on August 30:

The line was in most perfect order, and well skilled operators worked incessantly from 8 o’clock last evening till one this morning to get over in an intelligible form four hundred words of the report per steamer Indian for the Associated Press, and at the latter hour so completely were the wires under the influence of the Aurora Borealis that it was found utterly impossible to communicate between the telegraph stations, and the line had to be closed.

But if the following newspaper transcript of a telegraph operator exchange between Portland and Boston is to be believed, some plucky telegraphers improvised, letting the storm do the work that their disrupted batteries couldn’t:

Boston operator, (to Portland operator) – “Please cut off your battery entirely from the line for fifteen minutes.”

Portland operator: “Will do so. It is now disconnected.”

Boston: “Mine is disconnected, and we are working with the auroral current. How do you receive my writing?”

Portland: “Better than with our batteries on. Current comes and goes gradually.”

Boston: “My current is very strong at times, and we can work better without the batteries, as the Aurora seems to neutralize and augment our batteries alternately, making current too strong at times for our relay magnets.

Suppose we work without batteries while we are affected by this trouble.”

Portland: “Very well. Shall I go ahead with business?”

Boston: “Yes. Go ahead.”

Telegraphers around the US reported similar experiences. “The wire was then worked for about two hours without the usual batteries on the auroral current, working better than with the batteries connected,” said the Washington Daily National Intelligencer. “Who now will dispute the theory that the Aurora Borealis is caused by electricity?” asked the Washington Evening Star.

Read the full and fascinating article, 1859’s “Great Auroral Storm”—the week the Sun touched the earth on arstechnica.

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Passion for Morse Code, Night of Nights featured in NY Times

Many of you reading the SWLing Post are not only passionate shortwave radio listeners, but also amateur radio operators. My love of shortwave radio listening eventually led me to obtain my ham radio license, and as a result, to learn about Morse code. I had always admired Morse code–a.k.a. CW (Continuous Wave)–as a mode of communication in the amateur radio world.

The Italian, hand-crafted Begali Simplex is this author's way of sending code in style. (Photo courtesy: Begali)

Several years ago my passion for CW finally encouraged me to learn it, during which time I practiced it almost daily with my ham radio mentors. During the process of learning code, I went from struggling to hear the difference between “dits” and “dahs” to being able to distinguish letters, symbols, words and phrases. Today, we chat over the SW radio bands about all sorts of things–radios, the weather, our families–in Morse code, or what we like to call “the sacred language.” Indeed, it is sacred…in its simplicity and its efficacy. Morse code is more intelligible than voice-over long-distance radio transmission, because the receiver or radio operator only needs to distinguish between the short and long “dit” and “dah” sounds, truly form following function.

And speaking of function, Morse code used to have a vital role in our communications landscape. The following article, from the NY Times, sheds some light on a little maritime radio history. For a Night Each Year, the Airwaves Buzz With Morse Code

Morse code/CW frequencies–how to find morse code on the shortwaves

Don’t be fooled by the NY Times article’s title: the airwaves are always filled with the sounds of Morse code 24/7. Don’t believe me? Simply turn on the SSB (single-side band) mode on your portable shortwave receiver, then tune between the following frequencies:

1800-2000 kHz

3500-3600 kHz

7000-7200 kHz

10100-10150 kHz

14000-14150 kHz

18068-18110 kHz

21000-21200 kHz

24890-24930 kHz

28000-28300 kHz

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all frequencies where you’ll hear CW; rather, it represents the main amateur radio watering holes for CW/Morse code operations.

Want to learn Morse code? Check out this article on QRPer.com!

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Google commemorates 218th anniversary of Samuel Morse’s birthday

We woke up this morning to find the homepage of search engine, Google, in morse code. What a great way to commemorate Samuel Morse’s birthday. In case you missed this special Google Doodle, check out the screen capture below.

_ _. _.._ Google!

googleincw

Why not learn morse code and add that extra dimension to your SWLing skills? If you’re interested, check out these informative websites:

  • Go to the LCWO (Learn CW Online) website, create an account, and start learning morse code online today!
  • If you’re an amateur radio operator or are considering becoming a ham, check out this article. Code practice is easy if you have a code buddy!

Click here to read Wikipedia’s biography of Samuel Morse.

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