Warning: Never look directly at the Sun. Even without a telescope or binoculars the intensity of direct Sunlight is sufficient to damage your eyes.
For most astronomical activities, it is a problem to collect enough light to create an image of a distant object. For solar astronomy the problem is quite the opposite: the problem is to block out the phenomenal glare in order to see the details of the solar surface. This week in Protons for Breakfast we contrasted the size of the Earth with the size of the Sun – and every time I re-visit that comparison I am boggled and humbled. And so perhaps it was that which caused me to notice this story on the Register about scientists having begun to understand why the current cycle of sunspots had got off to such a slow start. The story has also been covered slightly more soberly by Scientific American
The Sunspot Cycle is intriguing in itself, but because it weakly affects the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth, it is also important for calculations about the possible extent of Global Warming. The story led me to look at NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, and I would urge you to take a look too. I found it astonishing to see something as familiar as the Sun is this new way. After the Four minute Introductory Movie try these links or search for your own favourites.
Pages on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory
- The Sun Now – Continually updated mages of the Sun taken at different wavelengths – the collage at the top of the page was created from these images
- Close up movies of 48 hours on the Sun’s Surface – just breathtaking.
- Pick of the week – a gallery of Each Week’s best images.
- YouTube movies
- Animation of the magnetic fields that create Sunspots (at the bottom of the page)