As reported by Gizmodo, thousands of Ham (amateur) radio operators recently helped conduct a key astronomical physics experiment. Whilst most astronomers and space fans were sat on lawn chairs outside to watch the eclipse, Nathaniel Frissell was setting up his ham radio. As the sky dimmed and daylight turned into dusk, the reports started coming in that communication was dying off over the 20 meter (14 MHz) radio band.
Frissell who is more commonly known by the call sign W2NAF was one of thousands of hams who set up their radios on the day of the solar eclipse in an effort to measure its effects on the upper atmosphere. They’ve just release the results of their investigation, which found that the solar eclipse thinned the charged particle-containing part of the upper atmosphere, called the ionosphere.
Frissell, a professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research noted that “It’s been a really amazing thing to see the entire ham radio community come together and see this through,” He also commented that “We have been able to take this really rough piece of physics and science data that wasn’t designed for this in the first place and show the eclipse effects in a very clear manner.”
Amateur, or ham, radio operators are regular people who set up radio communications and send messages to one another as a hobby and for personal enjoyment. They communicate over specially designated FCC radio bands. Occasionally, organizations will host “QSO parties,” where hams try and establish contact with as many other radio operators as they can.
Ham radio operators bounce signals off of the ionosphere to send messages over long distances, so they’re interested in how space weather, like solar flares, or eclipses change how their messages travel.