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DX Toolbox - Shortwave / Ham Radio / HF Radio Propagation

DX Toolbox Screenshots:



Current Conditions Window:

The current conditions window displays the real time readings for many factors which can affect HF propagation. These include:
  • Solar Flux: Indicator of solar activity. In general, the higher the number, the better HF and shortwave propagation conditions are, especially for the higher frequencies.
  • Sun Spot Number (SSN): Another indicator of solar activity
  • A Index: Daily average of geomagnetic conditions. The higher the number, the worse the HF conditions are.
  • K Index: Three hour average of geomagnetic conditions. The higher the number, the worse the HF conditions are.
  • Space weather conditions
  • Whether any geomagnetic storms that might affect HF and shortwave propagation are in progress
  • Whether any solar radiation storms that might affect HF and shortwave propagation are in progress
  • Whether any radio blackouts affecting HF and shortwave propagation are in progess
  • Current x-ray flux readings from the GOES-10 and GOES-12 satellites. The lower the readings, the better HF / shortwave propagation conditions are. Ranges are A1-A9,B1-B9,C1-C9,M1-M9,X1 and up. Low readings, especially in the A range, generally indicate good conditions. Higher readings can indicate poor conditions. Solar flares can cause readings to jump into the M and X range, which can cause radio blackouts for paths in the sunlit area.
  • Solar wind conditions: Solar wind affects the Earth's magnetic fields, which in turn can effect HF and shortwave propagation.
  • Geomagnetic field readings: Negative Bz readings can indicate auroral conditions are possible, which can adversely affect propagation over polar paths in particular. But you might get to see the northern or southern lights!




Solar and Geomagnetic Data Graph Window:

This window shows a graph of the last month's worth of readings for the solar flux, sunspot number, A index, K index, and background X-ray flux.

Periods of high and low solar activity usually repeat on a monthly basis. The monthly variation in solar activity can usually be seen, and it can be used as a quick visual indicator to see where we are in the current monthly cycle.



Propagation Prediction Map Window:

This window shows a map of the Earth, with the estimated signal levels on paths to all other parts of the Earth shown by the shading on the map. The lighter the shading, the stronger the estimated signal levels.

At the bottom, you can change several values which affect the calculations:

  • The current time and date in UTC. Clicking the Current button will reset these. You can change the date and time to see what conditions would be like for another day and time.
  • The frequency in MHz.
  • The solar flux value. This defaults to the current value, but you can change to see the effect.
  • Transmitter power in watts.

The titlebar of the window updates to show the latitude and longitude of the cursor, and the estimated signal level if the path is possible.





Grayline Map Window:

This is the traditional grayline map of the Earth. The daylit and nightime regions are shown by shading. This makes it easy to identify the grayline region, the terminator between day and night. Propagation conditions are often enhanced between locations on the grayline. So, what you do is observe what locations on the Earth fall on the grayline at the same time as when your location is there.

Another other useful tool in this window is the propagation path display. As you move the cursor around the map, a white line is drawn from your location to the location under the mouse cursor, showing the actual path the radio waves are likely to take. The bearing and path length are also indicated.

This window can also display in real time which NCDXF/IARU HF beacon is currently transmitting on any of the standard frequencies (14100, 18110, 21150, 24930, and 28200 kHz. The name and location of the beacon are shown, as well at the bearing and distance. If the path option is turned on, the path is drawn as well. You can then tune your receiver to that frequency, and as each beacon transmits (a new beacon transmits every 10 seconds, the entire cycle lasts three minutes), you can quickly determine the actual propagation conditions to that part of the world by observing how well the beacon is heard.

Each beacon transmission consists of the callsign of the beacon sent at 22 WPM morse code, followed by four one second dashes. The callsign and the first dash are sent at 100 watts. The remaining dashes are sent at 10 watts, 1 watt and 0.1 watts respectively.



Propagation Path Estimation Window:

This window lets you specify two locations (usually yours and the target) as well as the frequency, solar flux, transmitter power level, and date. It then calculates the estimated signal level for each hour of the day, so you can see at what hours of the day the path is open on that band.

You can create and store a list of locations by name, longitude, and latitude, and then call them up using the popup menus for the Location A and Location B.



Propagation Path For Time Estimation Window:

This window lets you specify two locations (usually yours and the target) as well as the solar flux, transmitter power level, time, and date. It then calculates the estimated signal level for each frequency, from 0 to 40 MHz, so you can see over what frequencies the path is open on that band.

You can create and store a list of locations by name, longitude, and latitude, and then call them up using the popup menus for the Location A and Location B.



MUF / LUF Estimation Window:

This window lets you specify two locations (usually yours and the target) as well as the solar flux, transmitter power level, and date. It then calculates the estimated signal level for each hour of the day, and for each frequency between 0 and 40 MHz, and generates a color coded graph showing the estimated signal level at each hour for the range of frequencies where propagation may be possible.

You can create and store a list of locations by name, longitude, and latitude, and then call them up using the popup menus for the Location A and Location B.



SWBC Schedule Window:

This window displays a list of schedules for shortwave broadcast (SWBC) stations. Broadcasts currently on the air will be displayed in bold.

You can press the On Now button to only display those broadcasts currently on the air. Pressing the All button will display all broadcasts. The search box can be used to search for specific stations, by station name, time on, frequency, and country code.



Reports Window:

This window will automatically download and display 20 different propagation reports, notices, warnings, and forecasts. The following reports are available:

WWV Geophysical Alert
27 Day Space Outlook
45 Day AP Forecast
Geomagnetic Data
Daily Geomagnetic Data
Daily Particle Data
Daily Solar Data
GEOALERT
Daily Magnetometer Analysis Reports
Hourly Magnetometer Analysis Reports
Predicted Sunspot Numbers and Radio Flux
Report of Solar-Geophysical Activity
Solar and Geophysical Activity Summary
Solar Region Summary
Weekly Highlights and Forecasts
Current Space Weather Indices
Space Weather Event Reports
Daily Space Weather Indices
Summary of Space Weather Observations
3-day Space Weather Predictions




ACE Satellite Data Graph:

This window shows a graph of the most recent 24 hours worth of data from the ACE satellite. The Bz (z axis), and Bt (total) geomagnetic field intensities are plotted, as well as the solar wind angles Phi and Theta. Strong negative Bz axis values often indicate auroral conditions are occuring or are possible, which can severely affect radio propagation, especially over polar paths. They also indicate a higher chance of seeing a visible aurora (northern and southern lights).



ACE Satellite Data Graph:

This window shows a graph of the most recent 24 hours worth of data from the ACE satellite. The Bx, By, Bz, and Bt (total) geomagnetic field intensities are plotted, as well as the speed, density, and temperature of the solar wind. Strong negative Bz axis values often indicate auroral conditions are occuring or are possible, which can severely affect radio propagation, especially over polar paths. They also indicate a higher chance of seeing a visible aurora (northern and southern lights).

The shockwave from a CME (coronal mass ejection) can be seen as a sudden increase in the solar wind speed, and often will cause poor shortwave propagation conditions to begin, especially if the Earth's Bz magnetic field happens to be negative at the time of impact.



GOES X-Ray Flux Graph:

This is a graph showing the most recent three days worth of x-ray flux data from the GOES-10 and GOES-12 satellites. Solar flares cause a sudden increase in x-ray flux levels. This in turn can result in much stronger absorption of shortwave radio waves by the ionosphere, causing much lower signal levels, and in some cases complete radio blackouts. Lower frequencies are usually affected first, and most severely.

Solar flux levels are on a logarithmic scale, with A1 being the lowest level, rising to A9 and then B1 (which would be like A10) to B9, C1 to C9, M1 to M9, and then X1 and up, with no upper limit. Background levels are usually in the A or B range, sometimes in the C range when the Sun is very active. Flares can cause levels to rise to the M or even X levels.

Conditions are generally best (quiet) when x-ray flux levels are lower. Large M and X class flares can cause HF radio backouts for paths that cross over the daytime region of the Earth.



GOES X-Ray Flux Graph:

This window is the same as the one above, except that only previous 6 hours are displayed, giving a better picture of very recent solar activity.



MUF Calc Window:

This window allows you to calculate the estimated MUF based on the current foF2 (maximum vertical incidence reflected frequency for the F2 layer), hmF2 (height of the F2 layer) and the distance between the two locations. In addition, the takeoff angle will be computed.

By selecting the foF2 and hmF2 tabs, maps of their current values around the world will be displayed (assuming you have a working internet connection).




Ionsonde Plot Window:

This window lets you see graphs of ionosonde data from a number of sites around the world. Select the site from the first popup menu (there are dozens of sites around the world), then select the type of graph from the second. There are three types:

foF2: This is a plot of the highest frequency that will be reflected from the F2 layer of ionosphere when transmitted straight up. As the incident angle is decreased, higher frequencies will be reflected, that is, more distant stations can be heard, or alternatively, more distant locations can receive the signal. This effect explains the "skip zone" around a transmitter site.

f0Es: This is a plot of the highest frequency that will be reflected from the E layer of the ionosphere.

hmF2: This is a plot of the height of the F2 layer of the ionosphere. Along with the foF2 value, it can be used to calculate the MUF for a given path. See the MUF Calc Window above





D Layer Absoroption:

Excessive levels of x-rays from the Sun, often due to solar flares, can increase D Layer Absorption, causing severe attenuation of radio signals. By knowing what the current D Layer conditions are, you can choose the optimum band(s) for radio communications between two points.

This window is just one of 21 available windows showing real time D Layer Absorption information.




AM / MW Station Map:

DX ToolBox uses an FCC database to display AM (MW) stations on a map, as well some information about them. You can update this database directly from the FCC from within the app.

Double clicking on a station on the map will bring up a line of text with information about that station. You can also search for stations. Type in the callsign, click search, and if the station can be found, the map will jump to it. You can also do a "fuzzy" search. Say you heard a callsign, but there's the chance you misheard one of the letters. C sounds a lot like E, for example. With the fuzzy search option enabled, similar letters will be checked as well. A list of all possible matching stations for the specified frequency will be displayed. You can then click on each station to locate it on a map. The FCC database includes foreign stations as well as US stations.

Beacons Window:

DX ToolBox can use the beacon files from the online NDB WebLog to display a list of the beacons reported on a particular frequency.



Email your comments and questions to info@blackcatsystems.com

Last modified October 19, 2016