... the sun has been deathly quiet, as can be seen in yesterday's solar disk image.
It seems that just the 'normal' solar wind can disrupt things all on its own, without any solar flares or coronal mass ejections. In the late 70's, 'cracks' in the earth's magnetosphere were first observed... cracks that allowed even a quiet solar wind to actively interact with the earth's (normally protected) upper atmosphere. Apparently this is the present condition that has been disrupting normal propagation for the past many days.
The spaceweather.com web site has a nice explanation of how these cracks allow the Sun's Interplanetary Magnetic Field (IMF) to interact with the earth's field:
"Earth has a magnetic field, too. It forms a bubble around our planet called the magnetosphere, which deflects solar wind gusts. (Mars, which does not have a protective magnetosphere, has lost much of its atmosphere as a result of solar wind erosion.) Earth's magnetic field and the IMF come into contact at the magnetopause: a place where the magnetosphere meets the solar wind. Earth's magnetic field points north at the magnetopause. If the IMF points south -- a condition scientists call "southward Bz" -- then the IMF can partially cancel Earth's magnetic field at the point of contact.
When Bz is south, that is, opposite Earth's magnetic field, the two fields link up," explains Christopher Russell, a Professor of Geophysics and Space Physics at UCLA. "You can then follow a field line from Earth directly into the solar wind" -- or from the solar wind to Earth. South-pointing Bz's open a door through which energy from the solar wind can reach Earth's atmosphere!"
Earth's Bz has been pointing south during this entire period of poor propagation. Heavy ionization of the daylight D-layer, normally an 'absorber' of LF signals, has allowed reception of several NDB signals normally only heard at night. In fact, one of my favorite NDB propagation indicators, 25-watt YLJ in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, has been heard all day long on 406KHz for the past week as its signal skirts along the underside of the dense D-layer. These auroral conditions however, often enhance the path to the south Pacific and several western BCB DXers have reported excellent propagation to Australia and New Zealand in the pre-dawn hours.
Another indicator of LF propagation disturbance is the DST or Disturbance Storm Time index. This number gives an indication of the severity of the weakness in the magnetosphere, with numbers going further and further negative as the charged particles trapped in the magnetosphere increase in numbers.
The DST has been having a rough ride since the beginning of the month and as these numbers grow more positive and remain there, propagation will return to normal. With late September and October often being among the best months of the year for LF propagation, and with the sun now doing its part by remaining quiet, let's hope that the earth's magnetosphere will also co-operate and seal-up those propagation-killing cracks.