The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is hoping that a combination of power line noise and an antenna built primarily for radio astronomy can help identify and track the movement of sporadic-E clouds in real time. And of course, a ham is part of the team!
According to an Air Force news release, the research team – led by physicist Ken Obenberger – is using the unintentional RF radiation from power lines and the University of New Mexico's Long Wavelength Array (LWA) to map and track dense sporadic-E clouds. The announcement explained that while the climatology of sporadic-E has long been able to provide a probability of when it will occur (e.g., we know that it's most likely in the summer, during late morning and late afternoon/early evening), "but the actual presence of sporadic-E can only be determined through trial and error observations at the time" (in the case of hams, that means getting on the air and calling CQ!). This method will reportedly permit what the Air Force is calling "now-casting" of Es openings.
Chris Fallen, KL3WX, former Chief Scientist for HAARP, the High-Frequency Active Aurora Research Program, is part of the AFRL research team. He compared this method to tracking thunderstorms. "This is similar to how meteorologists can predict how likely thunderstorms will occur in the afternoon above New Mexico during monsoon season," he explained, "but use Doppler radar to identify and track specific thunderstorms as they occur… Ken's technique basically provides weather radar for sporadic-E, only using radio noise from power lines as the radar transmitter."