Tag Archives: NIST

Marketplace: “Time may be up for timekeeping radio stations”

Photo taken in 2014 of the sign above WWV’s primary 10 MHz transmitter.

(Source: Marketplace via Richard Cuff)

The Trump administration wants to shut down two shortwave radio stations that broadcast time signals from the nation’s master clock.

The administration’s budget proposal would eliminate nearly $27 million in funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology for the two stations. WWV, based in Fort Collins, Colorado, has been transmitting one rock-steady pulse per second for more than 80 years. Its sister station, Hawaii’s WWVH, has been extending the time signal across the Pacific for nearly 70 years. WWV is also the world’s longest continuously-broadcasting radio station. (NIST doesn’t stream the stations online because signals are often delayed as they stream over the internet. But you can hear the stations by calling (303) 499-7111 for WWV or (808) 335-4363 for WWVH . There are also online recordings of the stations’ gentle announcements.)[…]

Click here to read the full story and listen to the program audio.

If you feel strongly about keeping the atomic clock signals on the air, I urge you to contact your local representatives,and sign this White House petition.

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Astronomers organizing to save WWV

As an amateur astronomer, I knew it was only a matter of time before the astronomical community became involved to save WWV.  Specifically, it’s a group of mostly amateur astronomers who observe and record occultations.

What’s an occultation?  It’s the term when a solar system object passes in front of, and blocks out a star.  Why is this important to observe?  Lunar occultations are the easiest to observe (if the star is bright enough, one can do a crude observation with binoculars or even the unaided eye).  But there is very valuable science to be had with smaller objects.  When a dwarf planet [like Pluto] or an asteroid – passes in front of, and “blinks” out or blocks the light of a star – measurements can be taken that reveal the dwarf planet or asteroid’s size/diameter.  We can even determine if an object is round/oval – or maybe cigar-shaped when multiple ground observers record and accurately time how long the star “blinks” (or if the star doesn’t get covered by the asteroid in some locations but does in others). Okay, that is Occultations 101 (if you are interested in learning more, see the link).

Credit: Upcoming occultation – showing the path where the occultation is visible – from IOTA: International Occultation Timing Association

Note 1: In 2017, amateur astronomers using a 3” telescope determined that an asteroid had a moon!I had a 3” telescope, back in the 1970s, when I was a kid!

Credit: Sky and Telescope Magazine & IOTA: the International Occultation Timing Association

Note 2: Multiple occultation observations involving the dwarf planet Pluto (and its next target – a “KBO”) are helping scientists navigate the New Horizons space probe (and to identify hazards) as it speeds through space to its next target – nicknamed Ultima Thule – beyond Pluto (on January 1st, 2019).

Equipment used to record and document these fleeting events (some graze occultations only last fractions of a second) requires – you guessed it – time stamped video devices.  Back in the old days before video and other advanced equipment, astronomers would sit a shortwave radio next to the telescope with a tape recorder to audibly capture & record the time signal with the observer noting the start/stop of the event (we’ve come a long way since then – time stamped equipment has advanced this from “approximately” to “exact science”!).

The main point of this blog entry: astronomers have been asked to sign the White House petition to maintain NIST stations funding. Sky & Telescope Magazine, if they haven’t already, will be posting an article with an interview that they conducted with one of the leading occultation observers that includes a link to the petition on their web site.

Let’s hope this momentum continues to build – and that it makes a difference!

Guest Post by Troy Riedel.

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Interview with Scott Simon of NPR regarding potential time station shutdowns

My recording booth at Radio-Canada/CBC Québec City

Hi, folks!  If you just heard me on  NPR’s Weekend Edition regarding the NIST Budget cuts to WWV, WWVH, and WWVB, welcome, and stick around! This is where the SWLing Post (and other projects we work on, such as the Shortwave Archive, the Radio Spectrum Archive, and the non-profit, Ears to Our World) serve up all things shortwave.  Here, we discuss both the fun (and importance) of this cool old-school medium that, remarkably enough, still has relevance even in our internet-interconnected world.

And for our regular Post readers:  on Thursday afternoon, I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Scott Simon of NPR via Radio Canada/CBC in Québec City, QC, Canada. More on that to come.

The show (with the SWLing Post bit) aired just this morning. You can click here to listen via NPR’s website, or via the embedded player below:


I feel especially chuffed that NPR would give the topic of WWV some exposure. This piece wasn’t so much a call to action as simply building awareness of what the shutdown of our national pacemaker––in the form of WWVB time station––might mean to the average person who has a self-setting wall clock, or watch (most of us do).  (Even at NPR, they’ll be asking, Now, where did we store that stepladder?)

Or what it might mean to the shortwaves themselves, which we in North America may appreciate a source of nostalgia or entertainment––and, yes, handy for keeping time––we have to recognize that there are still pockets of our world, especially in remote, rural, and/or war-torn regions, where shortwave radio is especially vital.

So, something that belongs to all of us––yet another example of a global source of information––may soon be taken away.  If you disagree with this proposal, I urge you to contact your local representatives, and sign this White House petition.

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NIST: Official response to closure questions

WWV building in Fort Collins, Colorado (photo courtesy: NIST)

I’ve just received the following formal response from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) regarding the President’s NIST FY 2019 budget request:

(Source: NIST)

NIST has a long-standing history of providing time and frequency services through our radio stations and we appreciate that many people use these services.   NIST’s WWV is the longest continuously-operating radio service in the U.S.  At the same time, the proposed NIST budget for FY 2019 required difficult choices about budget priorities.

The President’s full NIST FY 2019 budget request to the Congress is available at the link below, including a brief description of why the shutdown of NIST’s time and frequency radio stations is proposed. The proposal includes shutdown of NIST’s three radio stations, WWV, WWVH, and WWVB, which communicate with consumer clocks, watches, broadcasting systems and other devices. It is important to note that no changes to NIST services have occurred, and if the proposal were to be implemented, public notice would be provided.

http://www.osec.doc.gov/bmi/budget/FY19CBJ/NIST_and_NTIS_FY2019_President’s_Budget_for_508_comp.pdf. See page NIST-25.  

Here is a link to the NIST Budget Table for the FY2019 Presidential Request.

Also, for context, it may be helpful to view links to press releases issued in May and June 2018 by the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate Committees on Appropriations about the FY2019 budget process.

House

Senate

This response leaves no room for debate: all three NIST radio stations–WWV, WWVH and WWVB–are included in the proposed cuts.

Of course, we’re following this story closely. Bookmark and check the tag WWV for updates.

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Synchronizing “atomic” clock’s final tock? Time may no longer be synchronous

Do you have a self-setting “atomic” clock or watch?

Yep, so do I.  A number of them.  In fact, although I’m a tech geek of a sort, I don’t even know how many of my standard, everyday devices––devices I rely on every day––fall into this category…But I may find out soon.

Many of us own self-setting clocks known as “atomic” clocks.  Indeed, a large portion of wall clocks, alarm clocks, and watches, not to mention weather stations, cameras, and potentially a number of other devices, have a built-in receiver that self-calibrates. And all of these sync to a radio station you use more than any other, yet likely have never heard of: NIST Time Signal Station WWVB in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Here’s the issue: WWVB, the atomic clock time signal station that synchronizes time devices, may be shut down next year if a presidential budget request passes as proposed.

WWVB is a time station operated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) which derives its time from a system of atomic clocks with frequency uncertainty of less than 1 part in 1012.

Translation: How accurate is this time signal? Crazily, insanely accurate.

And that’s a good thing, as so many of the things we rely on all the time (and often take for granted) rely on it. WWVB provides a continuous 60 kHz carrier wave that, among other things, is employed by self-setting “atomic” clocks used by consumers and industry. WWVB receivers are embedded in so many consumer appliances from cameras to irrigation controllers, these devices depend upon the very accurate timing the station imparts.

Per the NIST:

For huge numbers of people in North America who spend their days in schools, offices, stores, factories and public facilities, the time of their lives comes from clocks controlled by a single radio station that few people have ever heard: WWVB in Ft. Collins, Colorado, operated by PML’s Time and Frequency Division.

According to the latest estimates, there are at least 50 million radio-controlled clocks in operation (and another few million wristwatches) all receiving accurate time from WWVB’s 60 kHz broadcast—and approximately a million new commercial radio-controlled products are sold each year.[…]

Regular readers of the SWLing Post are already aware that the NIST Fiscal Year 2019 Presidential Budget Request includes a call to shutdown WWVB and two shortwave radio NIST time stations, WWV and WWVH.

What happens if WWVB is shut down?

This budget was not approved by Sir Topham Hatt!

If the budget is passed as proposed, after WWVB is closed your atomic clock synchronized devices will no longer be accurate, nor will they automatically be able to toggle the time between Standard to Daylight Savings Time.

They’ll continue to operate, albeit without a self-setting function…thus eventually leading, in the words of Thomas the tank engine’s ubiquitous station master, Sir Topham Hatt, to “confusion and delays.”

And, unfortunately, should the closure occur, there may not even be any public announcement to that effect.

But what does this have to do with us?

These devices are so embedded in our lives here in North America, we scarcely notice them, and many consumers likely assume they’re set by the Internet.

They’re just an overlooked part of our lives that help keep us ticking––quite literally. Until a shutdown happens, we won’t know how many of the millions of devices that we rely upon will be affected. While there may be (arguably lesser) alternatives to this station’s time-setting provision, such as those provided by the Navy and the Internet, we will be without the one we rely upon most for accuracy.

The bottom line…

Something that belongs to all of us, and that we all rely upon to help us keep accurate time, may soon be taken away.  If you feel strongly about keeping the atomic clock signal on the air, I urge you to contact your local representatives,and sign this White House petition.

Otherwise? Time will tell. Or not, as the case may be.

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