Sunday, 18 March 2018

AR12702 - Catch It Before It's Gone!

Over the past few days a small emerging flux region has developed in the suns northern hemisphere, initially this was a bright area in both Ha and CaK wavelengths, however now a small group of spots have developed.  Unlikely to develop into anything more if there is a chance in the next couple of days to take a look is worth doing.  As the area passes over the limb there is a good chance there will be prominences associated with it in Ha light.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Take a Journey To The Sun on The Parker Solar Probe

Want to get the hottest ticket this summer without standing in line?

NASA is inviting people around the world to submit their names online to be placed on a microchip aboard NASA’s historic Parker Solar Probe mission launching in summer 2018. The mission will travel through the Sun’s atmosphere, facing brutal heat and radiation conditions — and your name will go along for the ride.

“This probe will journey to a region humanity has never explored before,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This mission will answer questions scientists have sought to uncover for more than six decades.”

Understanding the Sun has always been a top priority for space scientists. Studying how the Sun affects space and the space environment of planets is the field known as heliophysics. The field is not only vital to understanding Earth’s most important and life-sustaining star, it supports exploration in the solar system and beyond.

The spacecraft, about the size of a small car, will travel directly into the Sun's atmosphere about 4 million miles from the star's surface. The primary science goals for the mission are to trace how energy and heat move through the solar corona and to explore what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles. The mission will revolutionise our understanding of the Sun, where changing conditions can spread out into the solar system, affecting Earth and other worlds.

To perform these unprecedented investigations, the spacecraft and instruments will be protected from the Sun’s heat by a 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield, which will need to withstand temperatures outside the spacecraft that reach nearly 2,500 F. This state-of-the-art heat shield will keep the four instrument suites designed to study magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and image the solar wind at room temperature.

The spacecraft speed is so fast, at its closest approach it will be going at approximately 430,000 mph. That's fast enough to get from Washington, D.C., to Tokyo in under a minute.

“Parker Solar Probe is, quite literally, the fastest, hottest — and, to me, coolest — mission under the Sun,” said project scientist Nicola Fox, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. “This incredible spacecraft is going to reveal so much about our star and how it works that we’ve not been able to understand.”

Submissions will be accepted until April 27, 2018. Learn more and add your name to the mission here:

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Ex-AR12699 Nothing More Than Decaying Plage - 4th March

Ex AR12699 made it's return over the weekend, however sadly activity in the region has decayed significantly, and despite hopes there would be some sunspots left all that has returned is an area of decaying plage.  This can be seen above in a crop from the latest SDO AIA1700 image.  Here on Earth observers should be able to detects hints of this in Ha and also CaK wavelengths, where at higher resolution in white light it may be possible to detect it too.  .

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Ex-AR12699 To Return Within a Week? 27th February

Taking a look at the SOHO data for the far side of the sun it would seem that AR12699 that passed over the suns limb over a week ago that there are still signs of activity visible.  Loops to the centre of the disk opposite indicate a bipolar active region, and whilst maybe not as active of it's previous rotation there is hope there may still may be sunspots visible.  At the very least a region of plage visible in CaK wavelengths, and possibly white light, should be visible, with the ex-active region likely proceeded with the view of prominences on the solar limb a day or so before the (ex?) active region itself is actually visible.  However the area develops, or not, it gives solar observers something to look forward to seeing in the coming days ahead.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Supergranulation on a Blank Sun - 24th february

Todays sun is totally blank of all our usual features; active regions, sunspots and the like.  However look a little closer and this calcium image of our star shows 'Supergranulation', this pattern of convection cells on the Suns surface was discovered by A.B. Hart in the 1950's using doppler techniques to identify the flows of plasma on the photosphere.  Supergranulation has an approximate size of 30000km in diameter with a lifetime of about 24hrs and a surface flow speed of between 300m/s and 500m/s.  This image was taken with the ED60 at f6 with the homebrew CaK filter and the PGR Chameleon 3 camera, this first impressions with the scope at these short wavelengths is very favourable.  

I had planned on quite an observing session today, giving a number of scopes their first airing for the new year, however immediately on setting up the HEQ6 mount was dead and would not fire up; investigation revealed a fried inductor on PCB, likely caused by a short as can be seen in the image below.  Looks like a new board is in order. 

Saturday, 17 February 2018

A Blank Sun on Saturday - 17th February

After the excitement of the recent active region (ar12699) the sun has returned to a blank and quiet state more typical of our star as it descends into solar minimum.  There were some small proms and a few small hints of filaments, but, on the whole that was it for old yellow face. This shot was taken with a double stacked Lunt50 scope and a PGR Chameleon 3 camera.  Hopefully we'll get a bit more activity in the days ahead!

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Ha Full Disk - 11th February

The sun is getting ever higher with each passing day now, and each day gives an ever so slightly longer window for observation as old yellow rise clears the roof tops and trees of the urban skyline.  After dire conditions on Saturday I was optimistic Sunday may bring some clear skies as a low pressure system passed west to east into the north sea and pressure rose.  The air high above the UK was very cold and this led to much instability with towering cumulus shower clouds building which rattled through on a brisk north westerly wind.  The air in-between these clouds was very clear and the sky a rare deep blue so I risked a soaking and setup.  I'm still getting the hang of the Lunt Double stacked 50, as the ideal frame for imaging is just off centre.  I'm pleased with this shot though given conditions, it really was shooting between the clouds.  I'm more pleased to capture AR12699 which was just passing centre disk and may well be one of the last major active regions of the current solar cycle.

Friday, 9 February 2018

A Quick and Dirty Full Disk: 9th February

I got away from work early on Friday afternoon, and to my surprise the sun was visible in the slimmest of gaps, that is viewing with the scope through an open front door with passing cloud!  I decided to try the ED60 f6 with the Lunt wedge for a quick view.  The air was boiling away with the temperature differential in the open door, and was difficult to find focus - i'm not even convinced I did!  Still I was able to see AR12699 which is the largest active region for a while in this declining phase of the solar cycle.  Camera was the PGR Ch3 with a green filter and UV/IR cut.  Better than nothing, especially as that was what I was expecting for a while yet!

Thursday, 8 February 2018

A New Setup For The 2018 Solar Season

It's a new year and while we may be on a downward trend in this solar cycle there is still plenty to see on out star.  Here in the UK seeing conditions are often the main governing factor to successful imaging and as a result it is often the case that smaller apertures are able to deliver.  I was very happy to be able to use a Williams Optics 60mm f6 ED scope whilst at the eclipse in august 2017 and was very impressed with it's performance against the Borg50 scope.  A variation of the 60mm recently came up in the Astrograph sale and taking the opportunity to save a bit of money on the regular book price I bought one.  With a focal length very similar to the Lunt50 Ha scope it is easy to get a full disk with the PGR Chameleon 3 camera, and my 2" Lunt wedge fits in very nicely in it's 2" focuser.  I'm also very keen to see how this scope performs at CaK wavelengths too.  Cosmetically it is a nice match for the Lunt 50 on the side by side mount, and apart from imaging should be a great combination for outreach.  With the sun getting ever higher in the sky as we slowly head from winter towards spring, all I need is for us to be able to have some clear skies to get some observing in.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Sunday Sunshine - 4th February

The weather has not been in any way lending towards observing the sun this winters season, endless cloud and grey is not the way toward seeing what is happening 150 million kilometres from Earth.  The weather forecast for this weekend was again unfavourable, but from dawn there were hints of brightness in the sky, and from about 11am solid skies turned into a mobile and transient cloud cover.  I had other commitments for the day but with an hours window I quickly got out the double stacked Lunt 50 and setup.  It was just nice to observe through the eyepiece, and, for several minutes this is what I did, scrolling in and out of the tuneable range of the Lunt taking in the doppler shift that was clear to see with the prominences.  I knew I was on band when the ghostly filament clouds snapped into view on the disk.  Despite the lack of activity it was nice to say hello with our solar friend at the start of a new year.  The little surge prom on the limb was interesting, and, if time allowed would have made for an excellent timelapse, particularly at higher resolution.  Taken with a double stacked Lunt 50 with kick a$$ moonlite focuser, a bit of barlow to get full frame and the solid and reliable PGR chameleon 3 camera.  Hoping for some clear skies next weekend now, fingers crossed!

Sunday, 7 January 2018

First Sun of The New Year - 7th January

The sun is very low in the sky for me around the winter solstice, and for a couple of months hides between the trees and rooftops of the urban skyline.  Clear blue skies on this sunday morning tempted me out in the frost to catch a 20 minute window as the sun glides between the rooftops of neighbouring houses.  The wind was from the east so I knew seeing was going to be poor, and coupled with said rooftops steaming as the heavy frost sublimated in the winter sunshine.  I didn't have long to set up for the shot, so this really is very rough and ready, but is always nice to get a view of our star after such a long break.  Taken with the Lunt DS50 and PGR Chameleon 3 camera.

Iceland Aurora December 2017

I was fortunate to be in Iceland over the Christmas period in December 2017, and as always in Iceland one of my favourite things to do is look out for the Northern lights.  Cloud was a problem but then on Boxing Day and for the following 3 nights the Aurora put on a good show.  Not the best i've seen, but certainly not the worst.  Temperatures of -10c on the night didn't make observing the aurora a pleasant experience but the view certainly helps to forget the cold.  All images were taken with the trusty Canon 350D, 30s exposure, ISO800 with the Sigma 10-20mm lens on 10mm f4.  A link to all images can be found in my Flickr below.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Lunt 50 - Single Stack / Double Stack Comparison - 19th November

I've had my Lunt50 for a month or so now, but, at this time of year here in the UK it's never the best for observing with the low sun and less than ideal weather. I had first light proper last weekend, but in my enthusiasm lost all logic and reasoning and as a result never really ended up with an image I was 100% happy with through continually fiddling with the pressure tuner and double stack unit. Since then i'd given it some measured thought as to setting up the scope, and was ready for whenever the sun may reappear.

The weather forecast was not great for the weekend, but around Sunday lunchtime the clouds broke up a bit giving some transient gaps so I decided to setup and see if I could capture anything. Tuning the scope with some features on the disk was really easy compared to last weekends blank sun, and as a result I decided to get some images in single stack and double stack setup. I'm quite pleased with the performance in single stack, it reveals a lot more detail than my SM40 etalon would. SS image was at prime focus with the PGR CH3.

In previous threads and about the web there has been considerable discussion about the suitability of the LS50 as a scope for imaging in that people cannot reach focus. I struggled with the B600 that came with the scope, but the obvious solution was to use the Coronado BF15, this has much less optical length than the B600 and then reaching focus with a variety of configurations is possible. As an added benefit the BF15 lets through considerably more light than the B600 - I was getting 7ms DS 4ms SS with the B600, with the BF15 it is 1ms SS 3ms DS, quite a difference!

A side by side comparison of the black and white images:

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Ha Full Disk - 12th November

It has been some time coming; the full disks I was getting from my trusty DS40 came to an end last year when a slip de-contacted one of the etalons.  I was able to recontact it but I was never completely happy with the results, there was banding and an uneven field of view.  I purchased a 50mm double stack etalon around this time as it was a bargain price, and then only very recently got round to buying the Lunt50 scope to go with it - once you double stack you never go back!  Totally the wrong time of year with a very low sun and poor weather, not to mention the demise into solar minimum, but it is nice to get the full disk overview in Ha.

Conditions couldn't really have been much worse, a direct northerly wind meant the temperatures at 500mB were very low, meaning much instability in the atmosphere.  Throw in the 'Cheshire Gap' effect where the weather blows in straight in between the high ground of North Wales and the Peak District funneling clouds over the West Midlands, and the clear blue skies were just a wolf in sheep clothing.  This time of year the low sun has dropped into the trees from my yard, and I only have a some brief windows of branch free viewing in between the foliage, so I was keen to make the most of things.  

I'm not used to the pressure tuner system, let alone the double stack, but I was pleased with this result that I got at prime focus (350mm) with the DS50.  The camera was the PGR Chameleon 3.  Not much to see on the sun at the moment, the filaments appearing to be associated with the long distant relics of active regions of old.  Not sure how much use I will get out of the scope this winter, another year passes and the trees on my souther horizon get bigger meaning less viewing time.  I will certainly try though if blue skies present themselves.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

A Blank Sun To Start November...

The sun is very quiet at the moment, no spots at all, just a small relic patch of plage maybe indicative of an old active region?  Looking at the STEREO spacecraft data there is nothing on the way round in the week ahead either.  The joys of approaching solar minimum!

Friday, 27 October 2017

CaK Full Disk 27th October

Three observations of our star this month seems like a record based on the poor weather that has hampered observations for some time now, but, this morning it was certainly nice to first of all have clear skies and secondly be able to observe the sun.  Things are quiet currently as we descend ever closer to the bowels of solar minimum, but there are still the decaying active regions with small spots and associated plage of the active regions that have graced us for a third time around the sun.  The full disk was taken with the 40mm scope at ~560mm focal length with the home brew CaK filter and the PGR Chameleon 3 camera.  Not sure these spots will survive a 4th rotation but i'm confident we will see the plage again even if it is somewhat diminished than it is now.

AR12685 & AR12686 in Calcium Light - 27th October

A quick close up this morning of this pair of decaying active regions, now on their 3rd rotation of our star, not much other than a couple of dead spots and relic plage regions are all that are left now.  Pleased this image came out at all as was imaging with the 40mm scope somewhere up around 800mm focal length with the home brew CaK filter and PGR CH3 on an unguided camera tripod, quickly grabbing some frames to stack as the image raced across the field of view!

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

CaK Full Disk - 25th October

A sunny start to the day here in Anglesey, but I could see the next bands of clouds heading in from the south on Sat24 so was keen to try and get an image of our star in the frugal opportunities that have been presenting themselves in the second half of 2017.  I used the 40mm scope at 560mm focal length un-driven on a camera tripod with the PGR Chameleon 3 camera.  Given how this came out i'm pleased with the result, especially now as I type this a mere few hours after imaging the clouds have returned.  Taken with the home brew CaK filter.

Monday, 16 October 2017

A Deep Orange Sun, An Ex-Hurricane and Saharan Dust - 16th October

A curious and unique set of meteorological conditions gave a view of the sun today not often seen here in the United Kingdom.  Ex Hurricane 'Ophelia' was tracking northward in the Eastern Atlantic and due to make landfall on the southern coast of Ireland first thing on monday morning.   This had the effect of drawing up a warm source of tropical air from the Sahara Desert from North Africa.  This had been forecast for a couple of days over the weekend as temperatures in the UK rose to 25 celcius, some 10 celcius above the norm for this time of year.  Indeed on the sunday night a faint pinky sunset indicative of atmospheric particles scattering the longer wavelength red light.  The chart on the left shows the red line is the source of Saharan dust, whereas the blue and green plots have their origins from the mid Atlantic.  The red plot represents an air source within 500m of the surface whereas the green and blue plots air is some several thousand metres above the surface.  The plot below from the University of Greece shows the distribution of Saharan dust across Europe.  
The tongue of dust over the UK is been drawn up from ex Hurricane Ophelia drawing up the warm air from the south into it's cyclonic system.  The sky over Brierley Hill took on a peculiar Martian pinky tinge, looking very unusual, with the sun taking on a bright orange colour as the dust scattered red light in the atmosphere.  As the air source changed the sky and suns curious look changed back to normal almost instantly, and it's low height above the ground is shown by the pinky brown band on the horizon in the picture below.  If it was higher it would be more diffuse.  

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Ghostly Clouds of Plasma - 8th October

The sun at first sight seemed deathly quiet today when I looked on GONG before going out to observe, but as is usually the case with our star it is just a case of looking in the right place and the right wavelength.  The air was surprisingly clear so I knew despite poor seeing looking in calcium wavelengths was going to be worthwhile.  Only the day before the active regions that had survived 2 rotations, producing the largest flares of this solar cycle rotated out of view over the limb.  However such large sunspots like that don't just effects in the photosphere, they are active in the chromosphere and above.  Today was a great example of this, despite the active regions being over the other side of the limb, the clouds of plasma that sit tens of thousands of kilometres above them were still visible silhouetted against the background of space.  The thin solar chromosphere, some 3000-5000km thick is visible with it's spicules on the limb. This shot was taken with the 40mm scope at 560mm focal length with the PGR Chameleon 3 camera and homebrew CaK filter.

CaK Full Disk - 8th October

It's been 7 weeks, not counting the eclipse, since i've been able to observe the sun.  Sunday dawned with some gaps in the clouds that were floating about, the sun is much lower in the sky, so waiting for it to clear the buildings I set up and went out to observe.  I knew that with so many surrounding clouds the seeing was going to be less than ideal, and indeed this was the case, so decided on the 40mm scope with the homebrew CaK filter to get an overview of the disk.  I knew it was going to be pretty blank with only a few regions of plage from relic active regions, but, where the large grouping on the western limb has passed over it was possible to see some towering clouds of plasma high above the active regions.  Click on the image for the full size view to get more detail.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Say Goodbye To Those Sunspots... 7th October

Sadly another weekend of poor weather means that i'm unable to make any direct observations of the Sun.  Fortunately NASAs Solar Dynamics Observatory is in orbit and way above all the clouds and weather.  It shows the sunspots that have survived 2 rotations now are once again about to pass over the western limb, whether they make it around again is anyone's guess, but if they do they will likely be considerably diminished in size.  Images from the STEREO spacecraft indicates there is nothing coming around the suns eastern limb any time soon, so, it looks like we may well return to a blank disk again for a while.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

October Is Aurora Season - 1st October

For all the visual observers our star currently has several Earth sized spots visible in only modest equipment, alas these are dying active regions, and with their stable magnetic fields offer little in the way of promise for flares.  It is at these times we look at the sun in other wavelengths to see how our star can influence our planet.  In this image taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory the large dark area just to the bottom left of centre disk is a coronal hole, this area on the Sun has open magnetic field lines, and as such is spewing plasma and charged particles out into inter planetary space.  This could well impact Earth as early as October 4th sparking displays of Aurora in northern polar regions.  October is statistically the second best month (after March) for seeing aurora.  Fingers crossed for great displays!

Friday, 29 September 2017

In The Shadow of Giants - 29th September

Despite a different numbering system when an active region rounds the solar limb, these are the same spots and active regions that put on a show with X class flares just 3 weeks ago.  Diminished and magnetically much quieter with stable magnetic fields, these sunspots hold little promise of solar flares however continue to put on a good show for observers world wide as we get ever closer to solar minimum.  Why are we getting these spots in the declining phase of the cycle?  Opposing bands of magnetic activity either side of the equator are violently interacting producing the activity we currently see.  How long will this last for?  Maybe another 11 months before we head into a solar winter before the next cycle starts in a couple of years...

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Return of a Monster & Increased Chances of Aurora? 24th September

Our sun is quiet again in white light, with a medium sized but unassuming single spot visible that has little chance for flaring.  However looking down in the extreme ultra violet with the Solar Dynamics Observatory things show a different picture.  A large coronal hole extending from the suns northern polar regions is now geo-effective, which coupled with a co-rotating interactive region - the boundary between slow and fast moving regions of solar wind means there is a greater risk of auroral activity in the Earths polar regions.  

On the suns eastern limb (left hand side) there are coronal loops visible rotating around the edge of our star; these are from our monster sunspot grouping from a couple of weeks ago responsible for those huge x-class flares.  Will be interesting to see how it has developed on it journey around the back side of sun in the days ahead.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

A Wolf in Sheep Clothing - 19th September

Just 2 weeks ago we had the largest solar flare for a decade and large active regions keeping solar observers pleasantly occupied in the declining phase of the solar cycle.  Now the face of the sun is virtually blank in white light, with only one small decaying active region.  You would be mistaken in thinking this means the sun is quiet; looking in ultra violet wavelengths with the Solar Dynamics Observatories AIA imaging rig reveals a large coronal hole is visible. These are the dark patches on the solar disk on the right, and their open magnetic field lines means that the solar wind flows freely from these regions.  As they are geo-effective it means the solar wind has been interacting with the magnetic field lines of our own planet and has been producing some great aurora in our polar regions.  It just shows that just because the sun might appear quiet in white light it doesn't mean it is actually being quiet!

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

New Active Regions - 5th September

Things have been busy of late not leaving much time for solar observing or updates to my website.  I have been out in the States on holiday to observe the total solar eclipse.  I've got a lot of pictures which at the moment i'm working through processing, initial results are promising and i'm working on an animation of the whole event along with a report.  In the mean time our star is showing a pleasing amount of activity with active large sunspot genesis with large flares.  This is a result of Band - Band interaction (after McIntosh et al) where bands of deep magnetic flux associated with the declining phase of the solar cycle get ever closer at lower latitudes towards the solar equator.  These bands have opposite magnetic polarity, opposite helicity, and, because they are in different hemispheres different Coriolis forces.  As a result of all these opposing factors we should anticipate that we have dynamic, fast forming and potentially violent active regions.  Which, is exactly what we see at the moment.  Incidentally, when you consider the Carrington event in 1859 this happened in the declining phase of solar cycle 10, at exactly the same point we are no in cycle 24, maybe we will get a repeat event this cycle?  Certainly worth looking out for!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

AR12671 in Ha - 15th August

A new active region coming around the limb with plenty of small flaring activity.  The 203mm Airylab HaT was used but a mobile westerly air stream meant the seeing was never going to be the best.  I took a number of images and this one was the best of the bunch.  I was out early to observe and was surprised how much later the sun was now starting to rise as I realised we are closer to the autumn equinox than the summer solstice - seasons a changing!  

Thursday, 10 August 2017

AR12670 in Ha - 10th August

It's getting near that time of year when only the best days are suitable for the large aperture of the 8" Airylab HaT here in Brierley Hills.  Despite taking some number of images this is the best one of the bunch and shows this decaying active region.  It should be on the limb this weekend so fingers crossed will put on more of a show.  Taken with the double stacked Quark at ~6m focal length with the PGR Chameleon 3 camera.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

CaK Full Disk - 6th August

A clear if somewhat hazy morning today meant any solar imaging was going to be limited to the shorter focal lengths.  In the end it was a flat battery on the mount that brought an abrupt end to the session - a timely lesson in preparation!  Still, despite no power I was able to let the solar disk drift across the chip of the PGR Chameleon 3 camera to get this full disk in Calcium light with the 40mm scope at 560mm focal length and the home brew CaK filter.  The large spot associated with AR12670 should still be around for next weekend when it is the annual Solarsphere festival in Builth Wells.