While having some unusually seasonally clear and warm weather, why not make the best of this furlough and use the time to scan the skies and the sun. What I’ve done this week is, and haven’t done for ages, is a bit of solar astronomy. The problem is, is that the sun is at solar minimum, the quietest point in its approximately 11 year solar cycle. But just how quiet is it? What’s the comparison like between solar minimum in April 2020 compared to solar maximum back in 2014? Check out my video below.

Dusting off the astronomy equipment, its time to test the equipment. Having recently moved house, I need to make sure I haven’t damaged anything in the move (not that anyone else was allowed to touch my astronomy gear) and that anything solar related is in pristine condition if I’m going to be viewing the sun. Suffice to say you should never view the sun without proper equipment as it can result in permanent eye damage including blindness.

At solar maximum, the sun is a seething mass of activity, very dynamic and my favourite viewing object. Where as most astronomy objetcs can look relatively the same on each viewing session, except for the tilt of Saturn’s ring system or when one of Jupiter’s equatorial bands disappeared, the sun is ever changing, visually and with a physical reminder of feeling the effect of radiation, or sunburn, on my head during these sessions. Late 2019, early 2020 should be a low point but not completely dull, depending on what you are expecting to see.

Coronado PST in action at our new home

For me, I have a Coronado PST solar telescope that looks at the sun in a very specific wavelength of light in Hydrogen Alpha. As expected, the only thing I am managing to see are some prominences on the edge of the sun. These are huge swirling towers of ionized gas magnetically anchored to the sun. Apart from that, the sun is pretty quiet. The surface of the sun, photosphere, is not showing much at all. Using a white light filter reveals even less. Now look at my two images in the video from solar maximum in 2014; quite a difference.

I’m having a hard time imaging though, I’m still moaning about not having a tracking mount, as a result I can’t get that many frames to obtain a decent image and I can’t see much on the laptop screen as I need to make a proper shroud, not just use a damaged cardboard box. Therefor I have decided to publicly shame myself by posting this on internet to embarrass myself into getting the gear I always keep talking about.

A pity we won’t be going to Chile in December for the total solar eclipse, and for a landmark birthday. Thanks to Corona virus, I’ll have to stay at home on furlough practicing my solar astronomy skills.

Author

Nick Cook. Amateur astronomer, space, history, nerd, extreme dog walker, cat slave, severe tinnitus sufferer. 13.7 billion years in the making - not that much better for it.

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