I’ve been interested in meteor scatter for a long time. But this weekend is the first time I’ve been able to attempt contacts.
About 100 tons of rocks and dust hit the Earth’s atmosphere every single day. This common occurrence can be used to communicate using VHF and UHF radio frequencies over otherwise impossible distances.
Meteor scatter is a technique where you reflect your VHF or UHF radio signal off of ionized gas trails left by meteors burning up in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. These trails only last for a few seconds; as the frequency you’re using increases, the time gets shorter (at 2m, it can be a tenth of a second). For an amateur radio operator, this usually entails using various high-speed digital modes such as MSK144 which send multiple copies of a message every second, hoping to catch the fleeting trails. It’s an orderly process, with a lot of planning between operators, and frequency and timing constraints. This makes up for the randomness of the meteors.
Most amateur meteor scatter communications takes place on 6 meters (50 MHz) and 2 meters (144 MHz), but other bands (e.g. 10m, 222MHz, 432MHz) can also be used to various levels of success. It also takes a little bit heftier station to make regular contacts. I’m currently running 100 watts and 3-element beams on both 6m and 2m; 100W into 3 elements is considered the smallest reasonable station for MS.
As this weekend is the peak of the 2018 Perseids meteor shower, there are a lot of MS enthusiasts on the air right now. I heard stations over 900 miles away in Canada, Utah, Idaho, Nebraska, and California last night. I attempted a contact with W7OUU in Idaho (thanks for the try, Jim!); we coordinated through PingJockey, the web-based chat where a lot of the MS folks hang out. I could hear him clear as day very often, but he never heard me.
I’ll operate all weekend, as I can, to see if I can complete an MS contact during this heavy shower. If I can’t, that’s fine; more rocks will hit the atmosphere tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. There’s always something off which to bounce a signal.