The radio propagation

A guide to the ionosphere (I)
How to deal with the ionosphere ? Like most of you probably, the first time that I tried to understand what the matter at a few hundreds of kilometers above my head, in other words how "worked" the ionosphere and radio propagation, the result was disappointing. The only documentation I had was either too short or intended to some specialists of the ionospheric physics, what I was not. But as I was seriously Aurora pictured in Alaska by Dennis involved in this matter being amateur radio and also Anderson in 2000. 6x9 reflex body amateur astronomer, I wished to better understand its equipped with a 50 mm f/2.8 lens. 35 properties to better plan my activities on the air and sec of exposure on Fuji Provia 400F. understand for example why a band was close or why I experimented deep QSB at some hours of the day, etc. With time, some selected readings, a short list of experts, comparisons between predictions calculated by my propagation programs and my QSOs, I began to get a better picture of the ionosphere behaviour. At the end, it did no more look to a strange medium, this sort of blackbox in which came in on one side my signal, and came out something attenuated or disturbed on the other side, at the target location. Of course there are still some pieces of "sphera incognita" in this ionospheric puzzle but all "identified" pieces assembled, I think that I have composed a good picture of the ionosphere. These are all these knowledges that I would like to share with you and that we are going to review together in the next chapters. Associated to the other pages of this site dealing with ionospheric perturbations, ionospheric models, propagation analysis and prediction programs, and the other subjects dealing with DXing, I hope that they will permit you to get an idea as accurate as mine about properties of the ionosphere and effects of the sun and geomagnetic field on your on-the-air performances, without to forget performances of your hardware (antenna system, transceiver, and other linear that are also reviewed in the other pages of this site). Before speaking about the ionosphere, its formation, its variations, how to take advantage of its properties, and list all propagation modes accessible to the amateur, and more, I think that it is necessary to begin by remind some fundamental notions about waves, their propagation modes, and properties of the ionosphere. Added to the other pages, after this I think that can no more tell that you don't understand anything to the ionosphere and waves propagation, Hi !

Waves and the electromagnetic spectrum
We do not know exactly what really are electromagnetic waves, excepting that they look sometimes like waves, sometimes like particles (quanta). The simplest representation of a wave is a three dimensional structure made of an electric and a magnetic field crossedpolarized in both vertical and horizontal planes. Its energy is moving back and forth from one field to the other; this phenomenon is known as "oscillation". If the signal is omnidirectional, this complex field evolves evenly into space like waves that we observe on the water surface or still better, like a sphere that gradually become more an more large. If the signal is directional the sphere becomes a cardioid more or less extended in the propagation direction.

a range of 3 octaves. That means that like the magnetic field of a magnet here displayed in white on this picture. .52 EHz A poster in PDF format to download designed by Anthony Tekatch (722 KB) This spectrum is divided in octaves. It is also defined as the ratio between the velocity of the wave to the current field frequency (f). It is constituted of an electric (E) and a magnetic (B) fields which amplitudes evolve together. Above we enter in the world of light (IR. An octave represents eight diatonic degrees or a gradual frequency increasing of a 10-factor. contrarily to a scalar field represented by dots without orientation. subsonic and oscillating at less than one cycle per second. Their wavelengths is ranging between 1500 and 15 km. X-ray and gamma). UV. It is characterized by its frequency or wavelength (period) and its amplitude. a wave. Radio waves are a form of electromagnetic radiation sensible to charged particles like free electrons. Below a wave (electric or magnetic) travelling in a plan. At right. For a free space wave the wavelength  is : Radio frequencies are ranging from a few hertz. wavelengths of several thousands of km from peak-to-peak for brain waves. The wavelength is defined as the distance between two points of equal phase or period taken as unit of time measurement. the natural way to represent frequencies. Therefore users of beams have to steer their antenna towards the country they want to work and listeners have advantage in using conductors as long as they can to pick up the more signal they can. outside the radiation field of an antenna. Humans can heard sounds (vibrations) between ~20 Hz and ~20 kHz. In free space they travel in straight line (in fact following geodesics) at the velocity of light (300000 km/s) and reduce a bit in denser medium. One of the field taken in isolation cannot create this special wave structure.At left.2 mHz to 6. visible. the field strength is null and you cannot pick up its emissions. to several thousands of gigahertz. wavelengths of a few mm from peak-to-peak for microwaves. in effective or peak values like AC current or by reference to the signal strength expressed in dB an other dBW unit. The electromagnetic spectrum from 31. waves belong to the family of vectorial fields. Their intensity is defined in volts per meter (practically in V/m).

satellite. ELF are only used by some submarines and to carry AC over power lines.1 km 100 . VHF and UHF begin at 30 MHz (10 m) to end well above 1 GHz and are mainly used for radio and TV broadcasting as well as mobile communications over short distances (a few hundreds km) and more recently by cell phones.The electromagnetic spectrum is also arbitrary divided into "bands". broadcasting and trans-horizon radar operations. Refer to the page dealing with EM radiations and health hazard.132 eV 1. Above these frequencies we find centimetric and millimetric waves.1.120 peV 125 .30 kHz 30 Hz . light Microwaves. and well as to my pages dealing with radioactivity (in French) for more detail. Ham FM Radio. VHF High Frequency.750 THz 3 .0. MF Low Frequency. the famous microwaves.8 to 30 MHz (160-10 m bands).400 nm 10 . even though.30 GHz 300 MHz . these are formely frequencies ranging from 1. its main use is of course to carry the sound of low and mid frequencies as well infrasonic vibrations (animals).3 EHz 4.13 eV 132 neV . EUV Visible (red .5 .12. LF are mainly used for regional broadcasting purposes while MF are used for worldwide broadcasting. AM.1 nm 70 .5 keV 18 . GSM.13 peV Application X-ray machines. Navy X-rays Extreme ultraviolet.1 . among them next ones are the most important in the context of radio propagation : Radio bands Band Frequency 30.100 m 10 .1 eV 13 .3.1 m 100 . Otherwhise. power.3 MHz 30 .1. because all depends on the duration of exposure to the radiation. Ham Microwaves.30. UHF Very High Frequency. We The electromagnetic spectrum. and its intensity. LW Radio Sound. sunflare UV.30 MHz 300 kHz .10 nm 800 .3 kHz Wavelength 10 . Avi.3 . VLF Extreme Low Frequency.10 km 10000 .1 eV 13 . the distance to the source. SW.300 kHz 3 .10 cm 10 .violet) Super High Frequency. Navy. HF are of our concern. ionosphere ionization Visible spectrum. know them essentially .6 . the energy level increasing of about 10 times between the beginning and the end of the band. LF Very Low Frequency. Natural radiation becomes a health hazard only from the UV light and above frequencies.300 MHz 3 .13 neV 120 peV .132 neV 1.10 m 1000 .3 neV 13 .3 PHz 398 . Ham SW Radio. This band is also used for long distance communications (few thousands km) and experimentation by scientists and the Navy. ELF Each band extends over 3 octaves or so.100 km Energy 125 . Know as "shortwaves". Ham Beacons.3 PHz . geophysics Sound.125 eV 1. HF Medium Frequency.1 cm 100 . VLF are also the carrier of sound up to about 20 kHz. these bands are very appreciated by all radio services and operators as they allow long distance communications. Ham AM Radio.3 GHz 30 . SHF Ultra High Frequency.

etc) the depth is ranging between 50 and 30 cm (20-12") over the same spectrum. For example in fresh water (lakes).Attenuation : Like the light. Depending of their thickness metal objects can be used as reflectors. on Earth.Reflection : this phenomenon. the depth is ranging between 18 and 5 cm only (7-2") between 1. the signal becomes half less strong. The fading is probably the alteration that you all know if you have listened to shortwaves or old records from World War II. etc). ionospheric. radio waves do no more travel from one point to another in straight line and their signals are often altered. On pastoral areas (medium hills. At last take your lead protection. near independent of the frequency below 30 MHz. we enter the world of X and  rays. most services work in the lower bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. As we see. wear your anti UV-glasses to protect you against ultraviolet radiations. The reflection coefficient can exceed 90% at 15° of elevation (21 MHz). from 80 meters long and above don't practically "see" small obstacles like cars. the intensity of the field decreases in following the inverse-distance law : when the distance double. Each band requests special receivers and aerials according to the frequency used and the type of waves (ground. This is true in free space but on earth this attenuation is much stronger due to obstacles placed between emitter and receiver and to the fact that travelling around the earth radio waves lost their energy as they forced to bend to follow the earth curvature. appears when a wave enters in contact with a surface more or less thick or dense. and some satellite and radar transmissions (Kurtz or K-bands). Alterations of radio waves If waves travel in straight line and at the velocity of light in free space. V/UHF waves (2m and 70 cm long) are on the contrary very sensitive to small obstacles. long waves are however reflected by the ground but can penetrate it up to some meters depth. depending the incident . . Like a semi-transparent glass. Due to its large surface. space. Horizontally polarized antennas are differently affected and show an attenuation factor that never exceed 42% (21 MHz).through home devices like microwave ovens (Short or S-band). RF currents penetrate up to 50m depth (156 ft). the only one frequencies able to transport information on long distances with a very simple technology and low energy. A second effect is related to ground properties. wireless LAN (compromise or C-band). the ground. its electronic density and its dielectric constant. Then close your ears and open your eyes. a situation similar to the one we experiment when the sun is low and its light reflects from the water's surface as glare. very similar to its optical counterpart. However these waves are affected by the medium in which they propagate. trees or buildings. Long wavelengths. A second type of reflection is induced by the change of dielectric constant of the medium in wich waves travel. In seawater on the contrary. forestation. RF currents emitted by an antenna can more or less penetrate the ground at some frequencies. The long waves pass thus across these materials without be reflected. At last. obscuring the underwater view.8-30 MHz. Radio waves are mainly subject to four effects : . Indeed these objects are proportionally too small in regards with the wave and can't reflect its energy. the air and the ionosphere affect wave propagation. A poor ground (low conductivy and dielectric constant) affects also performances of vertically polarized antennas due to the Pseudo-Brewster Angle (PBA). you enter in the near infrared and visible parts of the spectrum ! Over it.

displacing its apparent position.Diffraction : Let' take for comparison its optical counterpart. in HF and upper bands this direction will be simply blocked up for Yagi's. including sometimes ground waves if the transmitter is not too far (say 150-200 km away). Propagation of waves The success or the failure of a radio transmission depends on the way that radio signals travel around the earth. A spot located out of sight from a transmitter. thanks to its omnidirectional pattern and vertical polarization will help you in jumping over this obstacle. effects of diffraction help to receive means that some light reaches well radio waves in areas located in the "shadow" of some places that we considered as obstacles like behind a hill.Ground waves : also called evanescent or surface waves. Note that if you live near the bottom of a valley. . some waves will be totaly reflected back while others coming from a lower incidence will enter the new medium without be subject to any reflection.angle. Due to this effect waves change of direction like the sun light is refracted near the horizon. If the relief is high and the landscape very close. This is even all benefit for radio amateurs that can receive by these means signals under conditions as unexpected as behind hills or thanks to atmospheric ducting or auroral events. Basically there are four types of propagation : . You are "condemned" in using a high-end vertical antenna that. Typically signals . can receive weakly its emissions because its signals are bending gradually by diffraction and can reach the remote receiver. That Sometimes. This effect has practically no influence in HF because waves arrive usually to the receiver by many other means such as refraction or reflection in the upper atmosphere. these waves propagate along the earth surface. At firt sight the shadow cast by a small object under strong light is very sharp. there are some chance that you had a hill or a montain range just behind your house. In fact due to its high frequency the light bends around the edge of the object and tends to make the borders of it shadow lighter. say behind a hill. Signals will be weak but plunged into darkness. In the air as the boudary between two areas of differing dielectric constant changes more slowly than the refraction index of the air for example. all these effects tend to replace the fine straight path followed by radio waves by a sort of large undulating and curved beam that widen as the distance and frequency increase and scatters in the atmosphere just like the light. But examined closely. we can see that the shadow borders are not at all sharp. other modes of traffic that we will review on the next pages. the wave refracts and bend gradually given the appareance that the path is curved. . These differences produce variation in the velocity of waves that tend to go further or dropping sooner that expected. The same readable. Interfering together.Refraction : this is the main reason of the bending of waves that occurs when they pass through a medium (air or ionosphere) having a different dielectric constant from the medium they have just left. and never reach the ionosphere. effect applies to radio waves. close to the ground.

under low incidence angles. LW and VLF) by geophysicists and the U.carried by ground waves can be heard up to a distance of 160 km or more during the daytime. This phenomenon occurs when both antennas are within line of sight of each another. VHF can be refracted permitting short distances contact (a few thousands km).Navy (submarines). permitting amateurs to reach stations located on the other side of the Earth in a succession of jumps between the ground and the ionosphere. They are very influenced by the presence of electrons gas and plasma in the upper atmosphere of the Earth. We will develop this subject in depth . A high gain and horizontally polarized antenna is thus highly recommended. an advanced ionospheric model simulating 3D pathes of sky waves between 2 stations. These waves are then called ionospheric waves. Above the critical angle. these ionospheric waves escape into space while waves emitted under a low incidence angle reflect to the ground one or more times (hops) to reach at the end far countries. they are reflected to the ground.Sky waves : They essentially concern frequencies below 30 MHz (longer than 10 meters) and V/UHF in a less extent that are able to escape into free space (that begins over 800 km aloft). In light blue paths of sky waves in the upper atmosphere. They are however subject to a high attenuation throughout HF bands to reach distances less than 15 km at 30 MHz. diffraction is very small and signals tend to drop off quite rapidely at a shorter distance. . Therefore these surface waves are mainly used at low frequencies below 1.. The distance to the horizon is given by the next formula : D (km) = 4. where weather patterns and temperature inversions form. also induced by temperature inversions. In this way of propagation antennas must display a very low angle of emission in order that all the power is radiated in direction of the horizon instead of escaping in the sky. Under certain conditions these layers reflect or refract shortwaves.Tropospheric waves : below 10 km or so of the atmosphere.124√H where H is the heigth in meters of the antenna above ground. Called sky waves these waves are however stopped in their travel by the ionospheric layers and.Space waves : these waves travel directly from an antenna to another without reflection on the ground. This distance is longer that the line of sight because most space waves bend near the ground and follow practically a curved path. On V/UHF on the contrary. At right PropLab Pro. called multihops.8 MHz (MW. . .S. In the field we must also add the effects of the atmospheric refraction and diffraction near the earth surface that extend this distance of about 20% in the lowest bands. This activity will be shortly discussed as well as the atmospheric ducting. At left in deep blue space wave and ground wave travelling from one antenna to another.

3 . However.are sky waves and mainly the ones propagating in HF bands.on the next page as they are the most used by radio amateurs. at incidence angles higher that the critical angle.5 .6 Back to: HOME . .4 .Free space waves : they are the most common but the less used ! We encounter them working in VHF or UHF where.2 . to be complete we will do a short excursion in the higher bands as well Next chapter Discovery of the ionosphere Page 1 . shortwaves escape into space instead of be reflected by ionospheric layers. due to their very high frequency. This way of propagation is sometimes welcome to work with an ham satellite in polar orbit or with ISS which signals pass through ionospheric layers. the propagation that is our concern . In another article we will deal about perturbations affecting sky waves propagation in the ionosphere.amateurs and listeners . As we told.