If the mere mention of technology puts a knot in your stomach, you’re not alone. Over the years, I’ve developed a love-hate attitude toward technology. I love being able to word-process this column on a computer and instantly e-mail it to Astronomy. I hate that, by pressing the wrong key, I might send the article to a laundromat in Romania.
You’ll be pleased to know that the innovations I’m about to describe are reliable, user-friendly, and relatively inexpensive. And they’ll definitely add pizzazz to your sungazing.
Imaging technology, where a small CCD camera substituted for the eyepiece relays the image to a TV monitor, has been available to professional astronomers for decades. In recent years, several companies, including Meade and Orion, have marketed low-cost imaging eyepieces for amateur use. I purchased one, and quickly discovered its value for solar astronomy.
I place an aperture solar filter at the front end of a 60mm refracting telescope (remember, you don’t need a large-aperture telescope to view the Sun). The imaging eyepiece is secured in the focuser and connected by a cable to the video port of a small TV/VCR combo. Once the scope is aimed properly, the Sun’s image appears on the screen. By pressing the “Record” button on the TV/VCR, I can videotape the Sun’s activity. A collection of these video clips gives me a nice record of sunspot activity.
The methods of solar observation I’ve mentioned so far provide what’s known as a white-light image of the Sun. A white-light solar image, which shows sunspots on the solar surface (photosphere), is interesting. A hydrogen-alpha (Hα) image, which reveals prominences and activity in the Sun’s chromosphere, is jaw-dropping.
The Hα filter is another innovation that once was available only to the professional astronomer or the amateur who didn’t mind shelling out a king’s ransom to purchase one. Last year, Coronado Technology Group unveiled its Personal Solar Telescope (PST) — an Hα filter/telescope combination that costs $499. The PST has taken the astronomical world by storm (see “Coronado’s Personal Solar Telescope,” January 2005).
In addition to being affordable, the PST is easy to operate — so easy, in fact, that its “manual” is a one-page flyer. In minutes, I mount my PST on a camera tripod and gaze in awe at a living, breathing star. The Sun’s red disk (an Hα filter lets in a thin sliver of sunlight in the red portion of the spectrum) seems alive with activity — around the solar disk’s edge, prominences arc into space.
Whether viewed by traditional means or with high-tech gear, our nearest star is a fascinating telescopic sight, and sungazing is a wonderful way to extend your astronomical pursuits to the daytime.
All right, so maybe the articles I e-mail to this magazine don’t wind up in a Romanian laundromat. A few months ago, however, I learned an e-mail I sent to a fellow amateur astronomer wound up in his junk mail file. I’m conscientious about answering all correspondence sent my way, so if you don’t receive a reply to an e-mail you sent me, try again.
Next month: We revisit the Ring Nebula, then “scoot to Scutum.” Clear skies.