An impressive train of sunspots has been making its way across the face of our nearest star this week. In the photo above: Designated AR2447 (small group to the left), AR2443 (bigger and darker, near center), and AR2445 (far right), the “Active Regions” have the potential of unleashing flares. In fact, AR2445 was the source of a flare that caused this week’s “northern lights” sighted across northern latitude locations around the world. Now rotating over the Sun’s limb, AR2445 won’t be aimed at Earth for a while — if ever again — but AR2443 has potential for high-energy flares.
Photo credit: James Guilford. Canon EOS 7D II: ISO 400, f/11, 1/1250 sec., 400mm lens with Astrozap film solar filter, heavily cropped, November 4, 2015, 2:22 PM.
Preparing for this week’s expected heavy rains and wind, I went to the roof of the observatory to clean out the rain gutters and check the downspouts. Chores done and with the dome open, I made another experiment at solar imaging through the big vintage Cooley Telescope. I found I could focus on the Sun (through a safe solar filter) and, with a Canon DSLR camera at the telescope’s prime focus, recorded a few one-shot images at ISO 400 and 1/500 second. The telescope is a 9-inch refractor with a focal length of 3,327mm. The results appear better than last time but show the apparent effect of atmospheric turbulence: that’s my story and I’m sticking with it! A few sunspots were visible and details of Sol’s roiling atmosphere show up. The photographic technique is the simplest we can use; more sophisticated processes are employed these days to achieve best results. Still, proof of concept is a good thing and getting the image focused is a critical step. I think next time we may try a dimmer subject.
Testing out a modified eyepiece adapter today, I had the vintage Cooley Telescope pointed at the Sun. Since everything was set up, I decided to see whether we could capture decent images of our nearest star, near noon on this clear summer day. While the sky was clear, the seeing — quality of the view — was not as good as I’d hoped. Apparently, midday heat was causing the image to “shimmer” in the eyepiece and the photographs reflected that. Examining the pictures on the computer screen, I was disappointed because I saw no details in the several sunspots visible. As I made some photographic adjustments, however, other features came into view: granulation and faculae! The granules, upwelling super-hot cells of solar atmosphere, are easy to see; they give the image above a “grainy” appearance. Faculae are a bit trickier but if you look along the darker right-hand edge of the solar image, you will see some light-colored patches — those patches are faculae! So a bit of disappointment changed to a sunny day surprise.
NOTES: Sunspots in this image are #2387 (L) and #2386 (R). For more information on the Sun’s photosphere and what can be seen there, visit this page at NASA/ Marshall Space Flight Center.
Our Sun is just past the peak of its 11-year activity cycle but has been unusually quiet of late. Many days we have seen few, if any, sunspots marking the star’s face. Over the past few days, however, there has been an uptick in activity including the passage of large sunspot region AR2339 (lower-right in our photo). The sunspot has been the source of major solar flares including one that interfered with radio communications in the Pacific region. This image is a single exposure made using a digital SLR camera held to the eyepiece of the Cooley Telescope at Stephens Memorial Observatory. A white-light filter was used for the protection of equipment and vision. A good article on the current solar cycle can be found here.