Saturday, May 29, 2010

Solar report

Well, it's the weekend which means I get to observe the Sun and make some sketches.  If you could not tell from the blog, I have been bitten hard by the solar observing bug.  I still do plenty of observing at night, I just have not blogged much about it lately.

The Sun is a little more active today that it has been over the last several days.  There are no officially numbered active regions, however, there are some areas of hydrogen alpha emission that show increasing activity.  The sketch below was completed at 1515 UT (8:15 MST) and can be compared to Thomas Ashcraft's image taken at 1248 UT (he was up early!).  The image is reversed east-west from my sketch:

There is a region of increasing activity in the northeast, that appears as a small snake slithering its way onto the face of the sun.  In addition, there is some weak activity in the northwest.  The developing region in the southern hemisphere is the most interesting, however, as it is beginning to show bipolar filaments; these are the short magnetic field lines running east-west within the active area in my sketch.  Cai-Uso Wohler in Denmark captured a nice image of this region earlier today, which can be seen to the right.  Click the thumbnail for a full size version.

Stephen Ames, a dedicated and skilled solar observer in Kentucky made a great sketch of some of the prominences in the northern hemisphere.

After finishing my hydrogen alpha observation and sketch, I set up my TEC 140 and Lunt Herschel Wedge to see if the developing region in the southern hemisphere contained any spots.  Much to my delight, all three areas of hydrogen alpha activity contain spots!  I counted 16 spots total in the three regions.  Below is a sketch of the full disc (completed at 1605 UT ~ 9:05 MST) as well as a close up of the three areas.  The facula surrounding the northwest group was also quite bright, due to the proximity to the limb.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Solar Flare and lift-off Prominence!

(If you are looking for the Diamond Jaxx pictures, scroll down one post!)

I was out observing and sketching the sun this morning, and at approximately 1550 UT (8:50 MST) Active Region 11072 produced a small flare.  This was at the same time I was observing a large and faint prominence lifting off from the Sun's southwestern limb!  Two treats this morning from an otherwise mellow sun.  In addition to the active region and lifting off prominence, there are some small filaments and weak plaging in the northeast.  Below is my Hydrogen Alpha sketch from today as well as Thomas Ashcraft's image from during the same time.  Note how in the image (reversed E-W from my sketch) the flaring is so bright that it overwhelms the camera sensor and details are difficult to see within the region.

Following my observation in hydrogen alpha, I spent a few minutes observing the sun in white light.  The spots within the active region are not as complex as they were during my Saturday observation, however they remain attractive.  Below are my sketches of the full disk as well as a detail sketch of the spots.

I tend to participate in the solar observing forum on Cloudy Nights, and many imagers from around the world post images.  Today, there were a couple spectacular image posted from Gianluca Valentini of Rimini, Italy.  Mr. Valentini uses a TEC 180 and Herschel wedge for his white light program, which is the big brother to my TEC 140.  Below are his images of the AR 11072 in hydrogen alpha as well as a white light image of the sunspots and granulation within the same AR.  These are extremely high resolution images of the sun, and represent some of the best solar imaging I have seen (as well as excellent atmospheric conditions!)

Emiel Veldhuis from the Netherlands created an image (below) of the lifting off prominence close to the time of my observation.  He also works on a project to bring live solar images to the internet, via Solarlive.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Diamond Jaxx head to Chase Field

A slight diversion from the usual content of the Lost Pleiad Observatory blog...

As some of you know, Ian is playing little league and his team the Diamond Jaxx has just wrapped up the regular season....UNDEFEATED!!  This past weekend, as we get ready to start the playoffs, several of the kids and families made the trip up I-10 to see the Diamondbacks play the Toronto Blue Jays...although it was more like batting practice for the Blue Jays who scattered 17 hits to every corner of the field.

Regardless, we had a great time and you can check out the slide show below.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Solar perspectives

While there is not a lot of activity on El Sol today, there are just enough features to make for interesting observations in both Hydrogen Alpha (Ha) and White Light.  The Ha  image to the left was taken by the space based Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes prior to my observations.  Currently there are no officially numbered Active Regions (AR) on the face of the sun, however, there is a small region of activity that has developed over the past day in the southeast quadrant of the sun.  In Ha, this region is quite bright and contains some small dark filaments.  In addition to this area of activity, there is a large and dark multi-part filament approaching the central meridian of the sun.  It is very possible that this filament is the remnant of AR 11057 that appeared in this same location one solar rotation ago (approximately 27 days).  There is also some weak plaging and small filaments that have just rotated into view in the northeast.

I completed a sketch of the sun using my Lunt Solar Systems 60mm Ha/BF1200 telescope at 1605 UT (9:05 MST).  Below are my sketch and an image from Thomas Ashcraft in New Mexico.  Note that Thomas' image is reversed east-west from my sketch.

There have been some nice close-up images captured today of the still developing active region, and two of these are shown below.  To the left is an image created by Rogerio Marcon, in Brazil.  To the right is an image created by Cai-Uso Wohler in Denmark.  I would recommend that you explore the webpages of both the astronomers as they contain a wealth of information and detail on solar observing (as well as other topics).  What is wonderful about these images is that they reveal the arching filaments and bi-polar magnetic structure of this developing region.  The bright white areas are known as 'plage' which comes from the French word for beach.

A bit later this morning (1600 UT) I set up my Stellarvue 90T and Lunt Herschel Wedge to explore this region in white light.  Below left is my white light sketch of the sun which reveals approximately 8 sunspots in the region.  In addition, there are some facula noted in the northeast, where subtle activity was seen when observing in Ha.   The second drawing below is from the Mt. Wilson Solar Observatory in California, where sunspots are sketched daily via solar projection and posted online.  The bottom image is from the SOHO spacecraft.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Polar Crown Filament

While the level of activity on the sun has calmed over recent days, there is an interesting feature that has developed called a Polar Crown.  Information on this phenomenon is surprisingly lacking on the web, although NASA has a somewhat dated webpage that provides some interesting information: "It turns out that polar crown prominences pop up almost every day. They occupy a ring (or "crown") around the sun's poles bracketed approximately by solar latitudes 60 and 70. Geometrically, the crowns resemble the auroral ovals of Earth. Instead of Northern Lights, however, the sun's ovals are filled with dancing sheets of plasma."  The image to the right is of a Polar Crown prominence in the Sun's southern hemisphere and more information is available on this webpage.

I made a sketch of the sun today at 1645 UT (9:45 MST) that shows a Polar Crown filament in the northern hemisphere.  This is the first time that I have observed and sketched this phenomenon.  It was a low contrast feature, yet very interesting.  To the right of my sketch is an image from Mr. Thomas Ashcraft in New Mexico, taken shortly after my observation.  His image is reversed E-W from my sketch, and both show the Polar Crown:

Overall, the sun is not very active, however, there is an area of activity rotating into view in the northeast.  In both my sketch and Thomas' image, you will notice a small area of plage, in the northern hemisphere just east of the central meridian.  This little area is termed an "ephemeral region" and likely has a lifetime of a day or less.  This ephemeral region of hydrogen alpha emission is also visible on these images from the new Solar Dynamics Observatory which is now posting daily images:

Friday, May 14, 2010

Odds and Ends

It's Friday night, new moon weekend, and the sky over the Lost Pleiad Observatory is covered with high thin clouds...what happened to the clear sunny day?!?!

I was surfing the internet for some information related to observing Jupiter and quickly learned that the southern equatorial belt (SEB) on Jupiter has disappeared!  Typically, even very small telescopes will reveal the two main equatorial belts in Jupiter's atmosphere.  The famous Great Red Spot exists in a hollow within the southern belt...or, it used to.  Currently, it is hanging out by itself, as seen to the left.  It turns out that the SEB has disappeared historically; once in the 1970's and as recently as the early 1990's.  The image to the left was taken by Mr. Anthony Wesley from Australia.   Mr. Wesley is the same individual who first reported the impact scar from a cometary impact on Jupiter last July.  The image to the right was taken by Mr. Christopher Go from the Phillipines and is a composite showing the disappearance of the SEB over several months.  Read more about the disappearance of the SEB on

Another odd and end is the following video that documents some of the history of Celestron Telescopes.  It is quite interesting...

The Path Of Light (Episode 1) from Celestron Telescopes on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day Sun

I got an early start observing the Sun today so that I could get a sketch in and then devote the rest of the day to my (truly!) better half.  The Sun has been sporting several active regions over the last week, although it seems to be calming down a bit.  I completed my sketch at 1530 UT (8:30 MST) this morning, using my Lunt Solar Systems 60mm Hydrogen Alpha Pressure Tuned Telescope/bf1200 blocking filter, and Baader Hyperion Zoom eyepiece at 12mm.  The image to the right is from Thomas Ashcraft, taken from New Mexico at about the time I was making my sketch. (His image is reversed left-right from my sketch)

Active Region (AR) 11067 in the northwest is bright and contains a long, gently curving filament.  AR 11068 in the southern hemisphere is triangular in shape and also contains a small filament.  11071 has no features of note, but is also bright enough to be readily apparent.  There is a very bright prominence in the northwest that is spewing out of AR 11069 which has just rotated out of view behind the solar limb.  In fact, this AR was producing a B class solar flare during my sketch.  A movie of this flare as recorded by SOHO can be seen here.  Visually, the prominence in the northeast (upper right in my sketch) is quite striking with an extensive and very fine linear structure to it. 

Paul Robertson who is a solar observer in Staffordshire, UK captured some very striking images of this prominence several hours prior to my observation.  These are his photos of the prominence: 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A busy Solar Mayday!

A beautiful day dawned this morning at the Lost Pleiad Observatory, and I was excited to get a decent look at the Sun without having to rush off to work or another activity.  Temperatures have remained unseasonably mild here in Tucson, and last night saw the temperature drop to around 40.  While todays high is only predicted to be in the mid-upper 70's, it does look a high pressure system is on its way which will take us to the mid 90's by mid-week...and that is where temps typically are this time of year.  It has been a fabulous spring for sure.

Seeing conditions were quite favorable this morning and I was able to sketch the sun in both Hydrogen Alpha (HA) and white light.  While there are only two numbered active regions on the face of the sun, there were  other developing active areas of note.  Below left is my HA sketch completed at 1555 UT (8:55 AM MST) and a photograph (center) taken by Thomas Ashcraft, in New Mexico at nearly the same time.  The sketch on the right is my white light sketch completed at 1715 UT (10:15 AM).

Of note, is the bright active area that has rotated into view on the northeast limb of the sun.  This area produced a C class flare about an hour ago, at 1928 UT (12:28 PM MST),   To the left is an image from the new Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA). This image is from earlier today, and has east to the left while the ones above have east to the right.  Once can see in this image that this new region is much more active than any currently on the face of the sun.

There also appeared to be some activity developing in the southeast while I was making the sketch.  The area is visible in Thomas' image as well, and seemed to brighten throughout the 20 minutes or so I was sketching.  Apparently, this region continued to increase in activity and may have produced a small flare at 1719 UT (10:19 MST). Thomas, who is also an active radio astronomer captured a radio burst near that time that may be associated with this small region.  He has placed the recording on the web and you can listen to it here on his webpage.  Make sure and turn your volume up so that you can hear the burst begin about 18 seconds in.  It reminds me a lot of sitting on the beach!  I would also recommend that you visit his homepage as it is filled with interesting astronomical science.