Thursday, October 29, 2009
The Sun and "what am I going to see?"
"What am I going to see??"..
Given today's audio visual technologies, special effects, and image enhancement software, it's not surprising that people expect to see everything there is to see the moment they put their eye to the eyepiece for the first time.
Some walk away having seen nothing. Not taking the time to see a Star in action.
Most others are mesmerized by the site. Cannot believe that they are actually looking at a real Star, our Star. The longer they stay, the more they see. The more they see, the harder it is to walk away.
There's no show like it at night. And as I like to say "It's not a sight you will see everyday" I guarantee tomorrow will be just as unique and equally different.
The Sun is the one object in the sky we don't usually look at.
As with any other hobby, it takes time to learn and how to observe. Much like walking into a dark room from outside, at first the eye sees nothing. Does that mean there is nothing to see?
After just a few minutes, features can be made out, and after several more minutes you can clearly make out all the objects in the room and can navigate the room with general ease.
I once set up a scope for a customer who, after 2-3 minutes, declared that the equipment was somehow faulty. All he could see was a red ball, there were none of the features that were shown in the brochure???.
For comparison I asked how long it took him to learn to drive. "Only a few weeks"...
Hmmm, was the car broken because he couldn't drive it in the first 5 minutes?
Solar Observing is much the same as the dark room.
Up until the point that you put your eye to the eyepiece, the Hydrogen-alpha line was only 0.01% of the total light that your eye sees on a daily basis.
However, what a magical 0.01% that can be. Ionized Hydrogen-alpha. By far the most interesting and entertaining emmission line from the Sun.
I'm amazed that the human eye can even resolve this very narrow bandwidth at all.
To answer the questions; "What can I see?"
First and foremost. Everyone's eyes are different. Please do not walk up to a scope and assume it has been focused to your eye. Take the focus knob, defocus the image, and bring it back to focus. The features you are looking at are narrowly contrasted and a sharp clean focus is essential. As features become apparent, refocus the scope. You will be amazed at the view once the focus is sharp.
To focus on the Sun, simply look at the edge. Focus is achieved when the edge of the ball is sharp against a black background.
At first you will see a red ball. Your eye is basically saying, "yep, that's red against black, and that's what I will show you".
During the day your eye's pupil is very small. It is reducing the light into the eye to a comfortable level.
When you put your eye to a telescope your pupil will typical dilate quickly (open) to compensate. The image is basically red against black, and the eye has learnt to show that information quickly.
However, after 10-20 seconds your eye is adjusting to the reduced light. The more light outside the scope you can block, the better the adaptation.
As you look around the edge of the disk, start at 12 o clock and work around, you will come accross what look like flames protruding from the rim. Small flame like structures are Spicules and Prominences. Large flame like structure can be large Prominences, Flares, and even Mass Ejections. Obviously, the larger the structure, the easier it is to see.
As you study these things, your eye will quickly perceive the lighter and darker contrast of the narrow bandwidth. The feature become very aparent and the flame like details are fully visualized. This is generally followed by a "WoW!" from the observer.
If I don't hear the "WoW!" I know they haven't SEEN the Sun yet.
The features you are looking at can last hours and even days. As the Earth rotates around the Sun, the features will appear to move accross the Sun's surface.
This allows the observer to see the details in various angles and positions both off the edge of the Sun, and in cooler contrast to the Sun's bright and hotter surface.
Over the next few years events such as CMTs (Corronal Mass Ejections) and flares will become more frequent. They are by far the most awe inspiring events that can be viewed thru a Solar scope in real time.
Often starting as a large Filament, or Active Region, they quickly develop in energy, resulting in a Mass explosion from the Sun's surface. Many pass harmlessly by, while others can hit the Earth head on. This can disrupt our communications, electricity, and provide awesome light shows as the Earths Atmosphere is effected.
The cause and effect can be seen and felt. The next time you see a flare hit the Earth and you cell phone doesn't work for a while, you'll know why.
Today's Lunt Solar 60T/PT Solar Scopes are ideal for both the casual observer and the avid hobbyist who seeks to study the Sun's day to day changing activity.
People are becoming far more Solar aware. From the effects of global warming, to the distruption of global systems, to the energy that we can now harness.
The Sun can teach many aspects of science from the warmth of a sunny day, to the reaction in plants essential to their growth, to the harnessing of Photons for electricity, to the Sun burn on your skin.
I often do outreach to school kids. Both the kids and the parents get a hands on
lesson with the scope and I generally teach the science basics while they look thru the eyepiece.
Kids adapt quickly and often see activity on the surface right away. They talk about volcanoes, fire, and fuzzy worms crawling on the surface. They are eager to see, and eager to learn.
Set up a scope sometime during the day and invite people to look.
"What can I see?".....
An ever changing and dynamic Star in real time.. Our Star.
The violence of the upcoming Solar Maximum.
The cause and effect of the Sun's activity.
You will learn to see the fine feather like details of the faintest prominence. The bright berth of a Solar Flare, it's rapid growth of energy, and it's departure from the Sun's surface into space.
You will see catapillar/worm like strucures ( Filaments) snaking across the Sun's surface, spirals of gas activity spewing and churning from active regions above Sunspots, and if your lucky, the violent eruption of an X class flare from the surface, an event which is highly energetic, fast evolving, and really does provide that full appreciation of just how close we really are.