Sun Spot

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.

Sun screen

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.

Sun and spots

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:

Sun and Spot (higher res)

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.

SOHO/HMI image of the Sun

Click on the image for a larger view.

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16 Responses to Sun Spot

  1. cromercrox says:

    I’m astonished that you’d use a light bucket as powerful as yours to look directly at the Sun, even through a filter – something I’d never, ever do. When I was a lad I had a 4.5″ Newtonian and projected the Sun’s image onto a piece of paper held in a rig I made myaelf out of Meccano. The sunspots were magnificent. To me, at any rate. My father took one look, said “looks like fly shit” and stomped off. I haven’t tried the Sun with Crox Minor’s 8″ Dobsonian, but if I did, it would be by the projection method.

    • Stephen says:

      Thanks for your concern Henry but my telescope is only a 5-incher and the solar filter is very, very effective. It was actually quite difficult to find the sun in the view finder because of the difficulty in accurately aligning the telescope since I couldn’t use the spot finder.

  2. ricardipus says:

    Stunning. Have you given any thought to putting an adapter (T-mount? or similar?) on your scope to avoid the eyepiece fiddliness?

    • Stephen says:

      I do have an adaptor – that’s how I mount the camera on the telescope. But since I only have a compact camera it has to be placed – reasonably accurately – over the eye-piece. There are screws to adjust the position but it is still a bit of a fiddle.

      When I’m rich and famous, I’ll splash out on a DSLR camera and a proper mount.

  3. Steve J says:

    Do you find the light pollution from ‘a city that never sleeps’ problematic for looking at the constellations?

    • Stephen says:

      It doesn’t help — you can get much better views from the countryside (as I found last summer), but you can still see a fair amount from the city.

      I live in the suburbs of London and there’s usually an orange glow around the rim of the horizon. But despite that I’ve had good views of the moon and the planets, and even the odd nebula.

  4. Lovely images. Thanks for the great blog post!

  5. rpg says:

    This reminds me that I rigged up a pair of binoculars and took a photo of the transit of Venus a few years back. All I need to do is find that photo…

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