Day 2.2: Smoko Loco

After spending a few hours in the field continuing our efforts on DARE, we decided to take a break, or rather a “smoko” in the local slang.  Normally referring a smoke or tea break, the team bent the meaning to imply a rest from work (maybe some tea).  On a related note, Hamdi’s new rap name is “Smoko Loco”.  We have yet to see if the name will launch the aspiring rap artist to super-stardom.  Stay tuned.

Hamdi making sure the spectrum analyzer rides comfortably on the way to the site

Nearby the EDGES/DARE site there is a control building that has a well-equipped lab in addition to some other amenities that one would find on a campus research building.  Along with having a kitchenette and conference room, it also has a designated First-Aid base and a highly monitored wing with dozens of (yet to be) servers.  In order to prevent any RFI (Radio Frequency Interference), the building is protected by two pairs of pneumatic doors.  This makes the building an impenetrable and impermeable signal fortress.

Set of pneumatic doors

Hamdi continued working on the system in the lab inside, seemingly running off infinite energy.  After a few tests, he alerted us by calling out, “I found the problem!  It’s alive!”, referring to the balun unit.  The unit was difficult to measure, but by boosting the signal we were able to spot it on the spectrum analyzer.

Hamdi using the spectrum analyzer

As the team discussed during the lunch break, unraveling low-frequency radio electronics is not a simple task.  For instance, to use commercially available equipment we must use a single-ended component.  The team uses balun circuits to transform this to a differential (or vice versa).  Test equipment we have on site does not measure differential circuits directly.  This means we need to use some tricks.   Likewise, faint signals provide a problem which requires highly sensitive equipment.   In the end we measured the gain of the balun at 14 dB with an open load.  That sounded about right, so we were ready to reinstall the balun and the antenna.

Control building

Refueled and regrouped, the team launched off from the control building and back to DARE.  The winds had beefed up considerably in the afternoon, which made housing and rearranging the somewhat fragile DARE biconical antenna worrying.  So we decided to postpone until the morning.  Comfortable with a good day’s work, the team used the hut as a temporary home for the antenna and strapped down the foam enclosure.

DARE securely strapped down, dubbed “Scar Face”

All in all, the team managed to solve a few issues – technical and logistical, alike.  We checked the DARE low noise amplifier, learned how to best arrange our day, and many other things that will help out as a whole.  The team definitely felt more confident after today’s work.

View outside the control building

I do have to add that being here reminds me of my childhood summers in Mexico; a foil between scientific investigation and the rugged rancher lifestyle.  The people are both relaxed and excited about spending time at Boolardy (or rather Ball-ah-dee) Station.  It’s a great place to do research and meet pleasant people.

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