Go Out:  Look Up!

A Guide to the Sky, Telescopes, and Telescope Programs



What a Telescope in your Hand Can Do -- that the Hubble Cannot

Telescopes do more than make little things look big.  Pictures do that quite well.  Some of the pictures can definitely make you say wow.  Pictures taken by multi-million (and sometimes multi-billion) dollar telescopes reveal far more detail than anything that you will ever see in a telescope.

What telescopes do, however, in a way that no other medium or instrument can do, is CONNECT you to the universe in a very visceral and emotional way.  You get an emotional impact when you SEE Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s moons or a millions of stars in a ball (Globular Clusters) or a galaxy’s 100 billion stars in a wisp of “cloud”.

The light from the actual object is physically hitting your actual eyeball.  You are materially connected to the heavens via a trail of photons.

The Hubble photograph can stir your brain; those star-flung photons literally excite your eyes, stimulate your imagination and, perhaps, touch your soul.

Why Solar at School


Solar Astronomy is by far the easiest way to connect to the universe in a school setting.  It takes only a few minutes, it’s not after school, nor past anyone’s bedtime.  A bright sky in an urban setting is no hindrance..  Sure, there is only one thing to look at, but it’s different every day.  It’s dynamic. It moves.  It rotates a bit every day.  With a Hydrogen-alpha solar telescope, you can watch the Sun’s weather.  Over the course of a week you can see a loopy solar prominence or flare transit across the face of the sun to become a prominence on the other side. 

Much like a beautiful sunset makes you feel really blessed to witness the beauty of nature, watching a big storm playing out over a the face of the Sun does make you feel like you’re connected to something big.   The universe itself reveals itself to be alive and dynamics.  All this can be experienced in a couple of minutes any time the sun is visible. 

These animations are a four-day sequence shot by an amateur* with with a $1000 (+/-) Hydrogen-alpha telescope.  Notice the rotation.  The image on the right show the prominences more clearly.  Notice how they "become filaments".  They're the same objects.  With space as a background they're bright, with the hotter Sun as the background, they are cooler and look darker.

*Pedro at Solar Chat



Observing goals can include

·         Merely see and identify sunspots, prominences, filaments, active regions

·         Sketch what you see

·         Take pictures (even a cell phone can take very good solar pictures (ONLY THROUGH SOLAR TELESCOPES AND FILTERS!!!)

·         Observe the sun over a few days to note the rotation.

·         Watch Surface features grow and fade.

Keep track of the number of sunspots (were currently near the 11-year cycle maximum)

Care should always be taken when viewing the sun.  Children should never view the sun unsupervised.  Any unprotected viewing, with or without optics is dangerous.   White-light filters are inexpensive and easily added to any “normal” telescope.  Care should always be taken that the filters cannot come off or be dislodged.  Finding and centering the sun through an instrument must also be made safe (there are a number of methods to do this).   Safety systems in dedicated solar scopes are generally much more difficult to circumvent.  The risks of Solar observing programs in elementary schools may outweigh the reward.  High school children are probably responsible enough to keep any risks very low.


Questions or comments? Email:Jeff Martin