Solar Telescopes

When most of us think about astronomy, and watching the stars in the night sky, we tend to completely overlook the most obvious star in our skies, and you can’t see it at night!

solar telescopes

Solar Telescopes

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The Sun is a truly spectacular astronomical object, it is easy to study, and provides endless variety in terms of solar flares, solar eruptions, sun spots, filaments, and other solar events on the ever changing surface.

It goes without saying that you must be cautious when viewing the Sun through any type of magnifying glass or telescope, because as you can imagine, the Sun is extremely powerful, and when you concentrate these powerful rays through a focusing lens, the light and heat derived from the Sun can become potentially dangerous.

For many years, astronomers found different way to safely observe the Sun, and even these days, school children around the world can experience the wonders of the heavens through experimental ways such as on a piece of paper with a simple hole in it, or using a telescope with a solar filter.  In terms of interest and experimentation, these methods are excellent for inspiring the imaginations of young minds, but if you want to be a little more serious, there are more modern and scientific ways in which you can do it!


Solar Filters for Solar Telescopes

The easiest and cheapest way to observe the Sun is to use your existing telescope by placing a solar filter over the aperture of your telescope.  A solar filter is a safety critical device, and you should not place yourself or your equipment in jeopardy by trying to shortcut on this critical item.  If you choose to observe the Sun with a solar filter, make sure you buy a high quality item from a reputably dealer, and if it costs a little more then put safety first and buy it anyway.  You can’t place too high a cost on the preservation of your eyesight, and especially that of your guests and children that you may invite to share your solar observations with.

 solar telescopesUsing a solar filter will allow you to see the surface of the Sun in the so called “white light” spectrum, and will provide excellent views of the outer surface of the Sun called the photosphere.  You will be able to observe sun spots, solar flares and many of the active elements on the surface of the Sun that you would never have seen before!  By turning your night time telescope into a solar telescope, you will increase your possibilities for use of your existing telescope, and you will increase the amount of time that you have available to use it.  Day time would otherwise be wasted telescope time, and with a solar filter, you can have loads more fun.

A quality solar filter reduces the amount of solar light rays that enter the aperture, and thus reduce the amount of energy passing through your telescope, which is not only good for you, but also reduces the amount of heating that occurs inside your instrument, which is also good!  If you have a refractor telescope, you can also explore the options to use a Herschel wedge, which filters the light at the eyepiece.  A Herschel wedge can provide a different image with a wider spectrum of solar light, but they allow the full amount of the energy transmission through the telescope, and obviously cannot be used on reflecting telescopes.



Solar Telescopes:  Hydrogen-Alpha Technology

For the truly dedicated solar astronomer, there are more technologically advanced methods of observing the Sun, and as may be expected, the cost will increase dramatically, depending on your expectations and your requirements.

For these reasons, we need to understand that dedicated solar telescopes are niche products and I would not recommend that you go out and buy a solar telescope as your first telescope as a beginner. There are many ways to become involved in solar astronomy, such as joining your local astronomy club.  If you are lucky to have an active club nearby, and they have a similar interest in solar astronomy, you may be fortunate enough to try a range of solar telescopes before you go out and decide to buy a dedicated solar telescope for yourself.

The most common of the dedicated solar telescopes uses Hydrogen-Alpha technology.  These types of solar telescopes restrict the bandwidth of transmission of light to the Hydrogen Alpha emissions which is restricted to a wavelength of 656 nm.  Even though this is an extremely restricted spectrum, it is the bandwidth in which most of the Suns emission and solar activity occurs.  So fortunately, a Hydrogen Alpha solar telescope will enable you to safely and reliably observe most of the interesting features on and around the surface of the Sun.

solar telescopesThis is known as the Solar Chromosphere, on which you will be able to observe the mysteries of solar flares, solar filaments and the peculiar prominences for which the Sun’s mighty thermal reactions have become famous for.  Once you learn how best to focus and track the solar movements, you will be amazed at the details that are available even for amateur astronomers, and the more you observe the features of the Sun, the more you will come to appreciate the sheer power and variations on this enormous ball of fire at the center of our solar system!

These days, you can also buy Hydrogen Alpha filters that attach to your existing telescope, in a process known as double stacking.  These filters can also be rather expensive, so it is up to you whether you prefer to attach a filter to your favorite telescope, or whether you want a dedicated solar telescope.


Solar Telescopes:  Calcium K Bandwidth Technology

Another option for dedicated solar astronomy enthusiasts is the Calcium K Solar Filter technology.  The Calcium K technology can be found in either solar filters for attachment to your existing telescope, or you can buy dedicated solar telescopes designed with Calcium K filter technology.  Essentially, the Calcium K filters a specific solar bandwidth, and provides excellent imagery of the solar storms and solar weather patterns which occur during solar emissions from the surface of the Sun, or when massive flares of solar material are ejected from the surface of the Sun.


Solar Telescopes:  In summary

Viewing the largest and most spectacular astronomical object in the sky is the most overlooked aspect of astronomy.  But you don’t have to be left out in the cold!  Solar astronomy can be a very interesting aspect of traditional astronomy, and you can add to your astronomy inventory in some very simple ways, such that you don’t have to miss out.

You can start your journey of exploration of the Sun with a simple solar filter which can be attached to your existing telescope, and as your experience grows, you can add to your tool kit with more advanced types of technology.  The best part of observing the Sun and its incredibly changing chromosphere is that you can experience the joys of astronomy both during the day, as well as at night for twice as much viewing pleasure!

Don’t wait for that elusive total eclipse of the Sun, you can observe the mystery and spectacle of the Sun’s corona every day that the Sun is not hidden behind the clouds, and I bet you will never get tired of looking at the mysteries of the Sun.


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  1. Look out for Solar Storms | Axleration - February 13, 2017

    […] You might be interested to see what a close up of a Solar Flare actually looks like through a telescope, and here is a typical close up view of what a solar flare actually looks like. […]

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