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Cockermouth Astronomical Society to welcome “Earth photographer”…

If you’re free on the evening of October 2nd, and can get to Cockermouth, the astronomical society there is having a special meting for a special lecture by a very special guest speaker…

Intrigued? I bet! Full details here: http://www.cockermouthastronomy.co.uk/2010/08/september-meeting-date-changed.html

Here comes the Sun (doo dun doo doo…)

Although I love the wonders of the “deep sky” – galaxies, nebulae and all that faraway faint n’fuzzy stuff – I’m a martian at heart, as you know. I love Mars, especially the Mars rovers,  like Katie Price loves the flash of a paparazzi camera, like Simon Cowell loves mirrors, like a fat kid loves cake* (* (c) Doug Ellison ). But I have to be honest, although I don’t love it as much as I love Mars, thanks to a NASA telescope I’m developing a serious crush on another celestial object…

The Sun.

I’ve always found the Sun fascinating. As a kid I would spend hours of my school summer holidays projecting its image onto white card through my Boots binoculars, so I could watch sunspots come and go on its surface. Now I use my trusty 4.5″ telescope to do that, and have observed many eclipses with it, plus transits of Mercury and Venus, too…

And for years – YEARS! – I’ve wanted one of those fancy gold-tubed “Sun viewing telescopes”, the beautiful “Coronado PST”, or ‘Personal Solar Telescope’…

But they cost a LOT of money, so that’s remained – and remains – a dream. However, at the moment I am able to use a PST because a good friend of mine has loaned me his, so whenever the Cumbrian clouds grudgingly part, allowing the Sun to burst through, I grab the ‘scope, dash outside and look at the Sun with it, marvelling at the sight of prominences leaping up away from the limb, and sunspots mottling its surface. It’s addictive, it really is, because you know that every time you point it at the Sun you absolutely WILL see something new, even if it’s just a little prominence, and there’s always a chance you’ll see something incredible erupting off our nearest star…

But I still can’t afford one, and unless I either find a bank robber’s dropped bag in the street or sell a kidney, there’s not much chance of getting one in the near future either.

But, wait! There’s another “personal solar telescope” that I can use – and that EVERYONE can use: NASA’s “Solar Dynamics Observatory” satellite!

“SDO” is an amazingly high-powered obesrvatory that studies the Sun, taking spectacularly-detailed images of our nearest star at many different wavelengths. And, best of all, those images are then put up on a website, very quickly, for everyone to see! So, I don’t have a PST here with me, waiting to be picked up and taken out into my yard, but thanks to SDO I can look at the Sun, and see what’s happening on and around it, Any Time I Want…! 🙂

Here’s how SDO “sees” the Sun, at some of the wavelengths it observes…

Now, my favourite SDO “channel” of you like – just because it’s the same wavelength (kind of… ish…) that the Coronado “sees” – is the Helium 2 channel, because that’s the one that provides the best view of prominences leaping and shooting up from the Sun’s limb, on pictures like this…

If you click on that image to enlarge it you’ll see a wealth of detail around the Sun’s limb. Features like this…

… and this…

And every time – EVERY time – you go to the SDO website, you can see things like that on the images there. And when you bear in mind that 109 Earths could fit across the Sun’s face in a line, those arches and pillars of solar material are truly enormous, dwarfing our whole planet…!

The problem with the SDO website is that, just like a Coronado PST, it’s literally addictive – after one look you just want to go back again and again and again,. because there’s always something new to see!

Another reason why I love SDO so much is because the people behind it are working incredibly hard to make its images and data accessible to the public. Their website is fantastic – simple to use, and very free with the images and results of the instruments. But beware – a “quick visit” there can suddenly become a half hour browse of dozens of images, movies and technical pages. Trust me – your sandwiches will curl up at their edges and your hot tea will go cold while you “take a quick look” at the SDO website! 🙂

If you want to look at SDO’s beautiful images for yourself, here’s a link to its website:

http://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov

And you can also find SDO images on this website, which also displays images of the Sun taken by other telescopes…

http://umbra.nascom.nasa.gov/images/latest.html

So, if you’ve never taken a look at the Sun before – projected through a telescope or binoculars, directly through a solar filtered ‘scope, or via a website – take a look today, I promise you won’t regret it.

And soon you’ll love SDO too… 🙂

So, you want to see the Space Station?

How do you do it? Where do you look? WHEN do you look? HELP!!

Calm down, dear… luckily there’s an almost embarrassingly-simple guide to seeing the space station right here, on this very blog. To find it, all you have to do is look up at the top of the screen and you’ll find a tab there which takes you to my International Space Station observing guide.

Or, if that’s too much effort, here’s a direct link: https://cumbriansky.wordpress.com/space-station-spotting