The Solar Dynamics Observatory is open for business and man are the first light images amazing!!
Be sure to see the videos which are better-than-HD quality.
The sun will become more and more active as it the 11-year solar cycle swings from the slow and quiet to the loud and wild. You can follow along using some online solar observing tools. SOHO is still my favorite but Big Bear offers some excellent ground based views and the newer STEREO spacecraft has 3-D views and its own iPhone app!
Check em out…
Yesterday while enjoying the July 4th holiday with some grilling outside I setup a borrowed Coronado PST to take a look at the sun and there was an active sunspot group!
Later I setup my 8″ Dobsonian with a solar filter and between the 2 scopes managed to get a few shots of the sun at 2 different wavelengths and the sunspot group is visible.
The SOHO instruments caught the entire thing from space in multiple wavelengths but here is just one:
The sun is an amazing astronomical target when it can be done safely. Our sun goes through an 11-year cycle and we have been at the minimum in terms of activity for a couple of years now. It looks like the solar minimum is finally over.
Come out on Monday June 29th to the downtown Houston Public Library Central location for some sidewalk astronomy from 6pm – 8pm.
The location is the plaza outside the downtown Houston public library. The library has an underground parking garage on Lamar and there is street parking on Lamar and McKinney and on nearby Smith Street. There is also a handy Google Map.
There will be telescopes and solar scopes on hand for observations of the sun and moon which will be at first quarter. Come on out and help create a tradition of sidewalk astronomy in downtown Houston.
Come on out June 29th to the downtown Houston Public Library Central branch for some sidewalk astronomy from 6 pm – 8 pm. The moon and sun will be our targets as well as anything else worth taking a look at. Check out the Google Maps view of the area to figure out how to get there.
During the summer months night comes very late to the Houston area but there is still plenty of astronomy to be done. Most people assume urban environments prevent any astronomy at all but that isn’t true by a long shot. Besides if we don’t try to educate people about the joys of astronomy they are less likely to help prevent light pollution in our cities.
Sidewalk astronomy in the big city has been an ongoing effort ever since John Dobson set up his home-made scope in the 1960’s in San Francisco.
Come out and see the sky from downtown Houston!
When I was in one of my college physics courses dedicated to the study of optics, one of my most dreaded and beloved professors Dr. Joe Ferguson explained a strange optical solar phenomenon called a sun dog which to this day is something I look for every time I’m outside and the conditions are right.
Dr. Ferguson retired from the Mississippi State Department of Physics and Astronomy in 2005 but is still a professor I strive to emulate in many ways. His lessons were often very hard but very memorable.
Sun dogs (and moon dogs) are caused by the prism-like refraction of sunlight through hexagonal ice crystals in a specific configuration in the Earth’s atmosphere. Halos around the Sun and Moon are often seen 22 degrees out from the celestial body and the sun or moon dog (or parhelia and paraselenae) will be in a horizontal line coinciding with this ring.
There doesn’t have to be a halo or ring to see strange prismatic patterns 22 degrees from the sun or moon and they happen fairly often here in Houston Texas. So next time you are out and sun or moon are not too high in the sky and there are some clouds out and about try covering the sun or moon with your hand and looking a bit to the left or right of the sun or moon and you just might get lucky and see a sun dog or moon dog.
Check out the wonderful explanation of sun dog formation over at the Atmospheric Optics website.
The Astronomy Picture of the Day for June 11th features a beautiful moonlit sky and one of these paraselene effects or a moon dog.