Monday, May 28, 2012

Beautiful day for (solar) astronomy

The Sun in Hα light
Image taken on May 14 through my solar telescope
 (click on picture to enlarge)

This last Saturday, I was one of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Vancouver Centre) volunteers at Simon Fraser University's open house. Along with two other members with their Hα scopes, I set up my own solar Hα telescope for public viewing of the Sun. The weather was exceptionally co-operative - not a cloud in the sky. Thousands members of the public came to view all manner of exhibits, and many came to look through our telescopes.

Most people had never seen the sun "in this light". The Sun is mostly Hydrogen gas, and Hα telescopes are "tuned" to exactly the frequency of the light emitted by hot Hydrogen, you see only the part of the Sun made of hydrogen. There is an immense amount of detail - prominences on the sun's edge, dark stripes on the sun (these are actually prominences seen 'from the top', against the brighter surface of the sun), bright flare areas, and sunspots. Many questions were asked; I'm sure that a lot of people walked away with a "new awareness" regarding the heavenly body which is the basis for life on earth (including us).

There was also an important announcement made: SFU will build an astronomical observatory for both science research and public outreach. The RASC will be part of this effort.

It was a great day for looking at the sun. SFU did a great job.

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