Magazine Archive

Popular Electronics magazine coverAs I was preparing my article for The Lowdown, I needed to look up some information from old Popular Electronics magazines. My collection of old magazines is long gone, but I found a great online source for old radio and electronic magazines and literature at

The site has a very large collection of magazines and other radio related literature and publications that you might find useful. It is definitely worth a visit to the site.



Firestation Operating and Returning Data

The NASA Firestation instrument has been installed on the ISS and is returning data.

Firestation will study the link between lightning and TGFs, and hopefully shed some light on the theory of Dark Lightning. Other questions to be answered are whether lightning triggers TGFs or whether TGFs trigger lightning and are TGFs responsible for some of the high-energy particles in the Van Allen belts.

Firestation was built primarily from spare pieces of the Firefly project, which was a Cubesat project that was modified with a with a redesigned housing for use on the ISS. There are three sets of sensors aboard Firestation, combined in two instruments.

The prime instrument is the Gamma-Ray Detector instrument (GDR). The GRD will measure the energy and time-of-arrival of incoming X-ray and gamma-ray photons associated with TGFs. The same instrument will also be able to detect energetic electrons in the hundreds of keV to few MeV range, to look for the relativistic electrons which are responsible for the gamma-ray emissions.

The other instrument is the VLF receiver / photometer experiment (VP). This experiment will combine multiple sensors to measure both the Very Low Frequency (VLF) radio waves emitted by lightning in the tens of Hz to tens of kHz range, and the optical emissions from lightning at high time resolution. These measurements will serve both to corroborate the occurrence of lightning when enhanced gamma-ray or electron fluxes are observed, as well as to help locate the parent lightning and determine some of its characteristics such as intensity, polarity, etc.

The Firestation sensors operate over a wider measurement range than Firefly. Firestation will also make use of a camera, also onboard the instrument pallet, to photograph lightning flashes so that the scientists can derive a precise location of their incidence. Firestation’s data rate is about 3,000 times larger than Firefly’s, so that the research team will be able to sample every lightning stroke, not just Firefly’s carefully selected sample.

But, the biggest advantage is in mission duration. Firefly is expected to remain in low-Earth orbit for roughly a month, while Firestation will have a one-year mission flying on the ISS. Rowland says, “This represents orders of magnitude better coverage.”

While no details have been published on the VLF receiver used in Firestation, it’s probably safe to assume that it is the same or a very similar receiver to the one in the Firefly Cubesat. This receiver was developed by Professor Allan Weatherwax and his team of students at Siena College which  measures single-axis electric fields in the 100 Hz. to 1 mHz. range.

The video below provides a good summary of the project. I was planning on posting links to some of the other information, but most of the NASA sites are down due to the inability of our congress to do its job. I’ll post the links when the situation is resolved.

The “Artistic” Side of Natural Radio

While this site is primarily concerned with the technical aspects of Natural Radio signals and the details of Space Weather, we shouldn’t lose sight of the intrinsic beauty and awe inspiring nature of these sounds. Many listeners listen just for the sheer enjoyment of hearing the signals and aren’t concerned about collecting data on every listening session. Of course, knowing about the origins of signals doesn’t necessarily decrease the sense of wonder or the joy that one gets in hearing the perfect whistler or a clear and beautiful appearance of chorus.

Probably the biggest online collection of Natural Radio sounds is recorded by Stephen McGreevey, whose fascination and appreciation of these sounds is well known and has been shared with many people on his website,

Professor Don Gurnett, James A. Van Allen/Roy J. Carver Professor of Physics, from the University of Iowa, is in the unique position of being able to collect “space sounds” from active satellites as well as terrestrial sources, and they are on his Space Audio website at:

Prof. Gurnett was also involved in the production of Terry Riley’s “Sun Rings” performed by the Kronos Quartet which combined Natural Radio signals and live music.

Recently, I received an email from a young audio producer in the UK, Patrick Sykes, about a radio program he had produced. Patrick is a freelance radio producer working mainly with Whistledown Productions in London.

Patrick’s show is called “Sunsong” and features the voices and recordings of Dan Tapper, sound artist; Stephen McGreevy, VLF recordist; and Dr Simon Foster of the Imperial College in London; as well as Patrick’s own recordings. He describes his project this way:

The skies are never silent. Invisible to the naked eye, VLF, or Very Low Frequency radio waves, are the sonic equivalent to the stunning visual aurorae that illuminate the planet’s poles. Caused by the interaction of solar energy with the charged part of the Earth’s atmosphere, they can only be made audible with special equipment.

This audio feature blends the sounds with the voices of those who work with VLF, from science to sound art, King’s Cross to California.

This is a well-done production that really gives a good introduction to Natural Radio without being didactic in approach, and emphasizes the artistic side of the phenomenon.

The show is available at SoundCloud, with more information about Patrick and his production process.

Dan Tapper, whose work was featured in the show, has his information available at: There are photos of Dan’s recording setup and some of his recordings also. Dan’s free publication, VLF: A Sound Artist’s Guide is also available at that address. This book is a manual for the budding VLF sound artist, explaining how to listen, record and process Very Low Frequency Sound.

Dan also performed his VLF sound installation A Machine To Listen To The Sky at The American Museum in Britain, Bath, UK, on May 2nd, 2013. This public exhibit attracted many visitors and introduced them to the wonderful sounds of Natural Radio. Pictures and more information are available a the link given above.

I find it extremely inspiring to see young new artists, using the latest innovations in social media and new distribution techniques giving us a new interpretation of the ancient sounds of the solar system.