Saturday, 28 May 2016

Don't forget the sun!

Most people believe that you can only do astronomy at night and preferably in a remote place where the stars still form a sparkling blanket in the sky. Hence the rather awkward reputation that many astronomy enthusiasts enjoy. But that couldn't be further from the truth! 

Studying and analising the stars is extremely difficult because they're so mind-bogglingly distant. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, imagine that the Earth's the size of a peanut. In that case the nearest star would be... 20.000 miles away! So if we want to study the physics and dynamics of a star, why would we go through all that trouble of studying such remote objects when we've got a very nice example threehundred thousand times closer to us? As you all know, the Sun is a star. Not a particularly bright one and certainly not a very big one I might add, but yet a very stable, middle-aged example. So if we understand our Sun, we can also understand other stars, even those that reside in the most distant galaxies. Therefore the observation of our Sun is a very important part of modern-day astronomy and also many amateurs have special equipment to observe our star in a safe way. Please, do not observe the sun with the unprotected eye! The story about Galileo losing his sight after having observed the sun is nothing but a hoax and in reality he became blind of cataracts. But if I were you I wouldn't try to find out what the sun looks like through an unfiltered telescope which can concentrate sunlight a thousandfold! However, there are plenty of methods and instruments out there which allow you to observe the sun in all safety. Unfortunately I haven't got them. But today I'd like to share the work of a friend who has.

Iain is a British astronomer with decades of experience and just like me he's a keen sketcher. In fact, I often see him as a source of inspiration so I regard it an honour when he allowed me to post his work here. Recently Iain published a 60-frame animation of 6 different sketches showing a spectacular solar prominence. A prominence is an ejection of gas from the sun's atmosphere, often loop-shaped and reaching hundreds of thousands of miles into space. Indeed, the Earth would look tiny in respect! The process that generates them still isn't completely understood but usually they form within a day's time and they may persist for weeks or even months. The animation shows the changes of the prominence in the period of one day:

I'd also like to invite you to visit Iain's stunning blog on which you can also find some amazing solar photographs and photo animations he made, apart from his beautiful deep-sky work:


And now I'll be gone for a couple of weeks because... I'm getting married next Friday. :-) But don't worry... I'll be back!

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