I have been working my way around the solar system with my telescope. The moon was easy to spot. And Jupiter and Saturn were not so very difficult to find, though they proved to be beyond my photographic capabilities. Over the weeks and months, Mercury, Venus, Mars, and finally Uranus have succumbed to my searches. Of all the official objects in the solar system only Neptune has so far eluded my telescoped eye.
Apart from, of course, the big shiny thing at the centre of the solar system: the sun.
I bought a solar filter a while ago and have been meaning to take a look at that most important star.
But what with it being winter, my opportunities for observation have been limited. Now that the Spring equinox has passed and the evenings are lighter, I have more opportunity and today I finally had the time to make an observation.
All I have to say is this: wow.
The photograph doesn’t do it justice. My set-up is a bit basic — just a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 compact digital camera bolted over the eye-piece. It’s rather fiddly to operate. However, those black specks that you can see are not flaws on the picture — they are spots on the surface of the sun. Sunspots.
I managed to get a slightly sharper photograph:
It is marred by a darkening towards the middle. I suspect the optical axis of the camera may not have been perfectly aligned with that of the telescope but it will have to do for now. You can click on the image to see the full resolution. The larger black sunspots are surrounded by a broad rim of grey.
I don’t know a great deal about the origin of sunspots. They are a magnetic phenomenon, arising from surface effects that are due to the intense magnetic fields associated with the swirl of charged particles careening through the intensely hot gases — mostly hydrogen and helium — that make up our local star.
I need — want — to find out more. But once again I have been bowled over by something that for years has been right in front of my eyes, only I didn’t know how to look.
Update (18-4-11): Thanks to some kindly folk on Twitter (@AntibodyBoy and @neutrinoflux), I discovered NASA’s and ESA’s Sun and Heliosphere Observatory (SOHO) which regularly posts images of the sun. Here is one taken at about the same time as my photograph. It makes me realise that my photo is not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.
Click on the image for a larger view.