Sunday, January 30, 2011

Making solar sketches

January 30th, 2011
I have received a few emails and messages from folks over the past year asking about how I make my sketches of the sun, so I thought I would write up a small post showing my (lack of) technique.   First, I must provide credit to my good friend, observing partner, and mentor in all things astronomical Jerry Farrar.  Jerry is truly a master at sketching and he is the one that taught me the method that I will overview below.

My goal in sketching is twofold.  First and foremost sketching makes me a better observer.  Whether at night or during the day, I spend more time observing faint and fine details when I am trying to re-create them on paper.  Second, and less important to me, is to keep a record of my solar observations.  As  a result of my priorities, I do not fret over the exact positioning of details although I do try and maintain the size and perspective as they appear in the eyepiece.

I begin by printing out a blank solar observing form that has been made publicly available by sketch artist Jeremy Perez, who maintains the Belt of Venus website.  I then use a graphite HB pencil to shade in the entire disc.  Do not worry at this point about uneven shading, as the rest of the process will even out the Chromospheric network that I try to represent.  Below are the first two steps in the process:

The next step takes awhile, and I have actually gotten in the habit of preparing these solar discs ahead of time. By doing these ahead of time, I can get right to observing and sketching the Sun when my schedule and the weather cooperate.  I sharpen my pencil and then add a layer of random squiggly (technical term) lines over the entire solar disc.  I am careful not to draw circles or straight lines, as inevitably these show through in the final product...and what I am after is a  randomness to the look of the disc.  Once I have filled the entire disc with squiggles, I take a blending stump and using small circles, rub the drawing to blend both layers of graphite that I have applied.  I do try and blend the disc to a somewhat even appearance so that I do not end up with areas that are markedly darker or lighter than others.  The idea is that when I am done, the squiggly lines still show through a bit and the disc resembles the hydrogen alpha view of the sun without any features.

At this point I am done, if preparing ahead of time, as this discs are ready for use in making a solar sketch.  Prior to drawing in any details such as active regions, filaments and prominences, I spend about 10-20 minutes observing the sun to get the overall picture of the disc, noting what details are present and where they are.  I also adjust the tuning of the etalon filter in my scope to bring out some of the features that are best observed on the blue and red wings of the hydrogen alpha band.  Once I have seen what I believe can be seen that day, I use an eraser to mark the locations of plage and active regions.  I erase an area that is slightly larger than the actual region, so that I can then fill in the edges, creating a more realistic look and shape.  Once I have these regions erased into the sketch, I use them as markers to locate filaments and prominences around the disc.  After I have drawn in these these other features, I return to the plage areas and spend some time filling in spots, filaments, fibrils, whatever I can.  Typically I see much more detail than I can record, however, I try to finish my sketch feeling like I captured the significant details. I will often use a mechanical pencil to draw some of the faint magnet field field lines that surround the plage areas.

There you have it, the secrets of a solar sketching hack revealed!  Feel free to drop me a note with any questions...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Happy Birthday Son Sun observation

Invitation to 1st Birthday!
Busy day today, but nothing compared to 12 years ago...on January 29th 1999, Ian finally arrived!  I say finally as he had been trying to come for almost 6 weeks and it was all Beth could do to keep his restless little behind in the womb while she remained on bed rest at Tucson Medical Center.  It has been a fun filled 12 years and each year seems to get better and better.  We started our day today with player evaluations for little league Majors division, and Ian did great in both fielding and pitching evaluations.   While I'll help out coaching soon enough, I spent the 3 hours this morning leaning over the outfield fence, sipping my coffee and appreciating how lucky I am to have such a wonderful son.  We already have memories to last a lifetime and I am increasingly proud of the young man he is becoming. Ian woke early this morning and quickly reminded us that it is only 4 years until he receives his drivers license.  Wow...I am sure it will feel like tomorrow.

As we get ready to have the family over to celebrate, I slipped outside to make an observation of the Sun on my son's birthday.  overall, it remains fairly quiet, with a few small active regions (AR) and small prominences.  You can see below in my sketch that AR 11150 in the southeast is the largest and brightest of the regions.  It appears to have at least one small spot and contains many magnetic field lines.  AR 11151 near the west limb is fairly small and appears to be deteriorating.  In the northeast, there is an extremely bright prominence accompanied by a bright plage region that may be heralding an AR coming around the limb.  My sketch was completed at 1921 UT (12:21 MST) using my Lunt 60mm Hydrogen Alpha Solar Telescope.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Eruptive prominence!

This morning's observation of the sun was quite a treat.  Not only are there two attractive Active Regions (AR) near the center of the Sun's face, but there was a massive eruptive prominence on the northwestern limb.  My sketch below does not do justice to the brightness and detail of the prominence, but it does give you an idea of the size.  For reference, the prominence is likely at least 10-12 earth diameters high! ( It would take about 110 earths lined up to cross the diameter of the Sun).

The sketch was completed at 1625 UT (9:25 MST) under very steady skies.  During the time of the sketch, the prominence was changing rapidly- every time I would look at it after drawing in one of the active region details it had evolved.  I drew the prominence first and by the time I finished the drawing, the prominence looked entirely different. Below are images (reversed left to right from my drawing) from the Solar Dynamics Observatory in hydrogen alpha and white light.  The white light image shows the sunspots associated with the two AR's. Due to some delay in data, the images are from several hours prior to my sketch.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Solar report ~ Jan. 17th

Being off work today I had a chance to get out mid day and observe and sketch the Sun.  While not extremely active, there are several interesting features of note.  The sketch below was completed at 1910 UT (12:10 MST) using my Lunt 60mm Hydrogen Alpha (Ha) scope with 12mm blocking filter, under mostly clear skies.

You can see that the largest Active Region (AR), #11147 has recently come around the NE limb.  It is fairly bright with dark filaments within the plage area.  There is a spot visible in Ha that seems to have grown larger and darker since my observation yesterday.  There are multiple filaments scattered around the disc, with the ones in the NW hinting at some fantastic prominences in the days to come.  Speaking of prominences, there is a very large yet faint complex of them in the SW.

Most interesting today, were the three ephemeral regions that are apparent in the sketch.  Ephemeral regions are bright plage areas that can last from hours to a few days...sometimes these develop into active regions, but most often they do not.  One of these is visible just west of AR 11147 and seems to contain some dark filament structure. There is another small ephemeral region just to the NE of the center of the disc, and the third is is the SW. This ephemeral region was noted in my observation yesterday, however, you can see that it seems to have developed in both size and brightness and now contains some dark filaments as well...this may signal further development into an active region...we can only hope!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Sun still shines in Tucson

It seems that over the past week time has slowed to a crawl, here in Tucson.  Finally this morning, I was able to enjoy my coffee and observe the Sun as I have done so many Saturday mornings in the past.  Tucson has been at the center of an international media storm over the past week, and without a doubt everyone here has been affected by last Saturday's tragedy.  (For some great perspective see this post).  My position and responsibilities at the University of Arizona afforded me a close-in seat to Wednesday's memorial service and it was quite moving to be able honor the victims as well as all those in our community who are working every day to return a sense a civility and pride to Tucson.  A picture from my mobile phone's poor camera is at right.  President Obama's words resonated with me on many fronts, particularly that we must all work harder to create a country that reflects the vision and ideals held by 9 year old Christina Taylor Green, and the other victims.

Today was the first observation of any kind conducted at the Lost Pleiad Observatory since last weekends tragedy.  As you can see from my sketch of the Sun, there is very little activity right now that is visible on the face.  Active regions 11145 and 11146 are both weak, with only 11145 showing moderately bright plage and an "S" shaped filament within the plage.  There are several bright prominences in the northwest and in the northeast. Seeing conditions were quite poor making it difficult to focus on these features even at low power.  My sketch was completed at 1715 UT (10:15 MST) using my Lunt 60mm Ha pressure tuned telescope with 12mm blocking filter.  I had to keep the magnification down around 30X otherwise the image would begin to deteriorate.  The sun was approximately 27 degrees above the horizon at the time of the sketch.

As Tucson moves forward, last weekends shooting will forever be a part of us.  I hope that soon the rest of the world will no longer associate Tucson solely with the terrible acts of hate and violence, but rather with our people, our rich history, our landscapes, foods, and most importantly astronomy and the Sun!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sweet Home Arizona -

I try not to get political on my blog, but the events this past week have certainly been painful for everyone in Tucson. So many people were affected by the irrational, violent, and hateful acts of one individual-

I grew up in Tucson, and this week, after nearly 42 years here, have been telling my friends that "this is not my Tucson anymore." As I prepare to spend today assisting with logistics of the community memorial the University is hosting, including President Obama, I was struggling with my own feelings of sadness, frustration, and longing for a more civil community. I read the above piece over a cup of coffee and now feel that I am ready to provide whatever I can throughout the day in honor of the victims and families, as well as my city as a whole.

Thanks so much to Aurelie Sheehan, director of the creative writing program here at the University of Arizona for publishing her op-ed piece in the NY Times; it has put words to my feelings; it has helped me to move forward.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Anniversary time

Finally, the long awaited anniversary post and trip report!  Not only did the New Year mark 15 years of marriage between Beth and I, but it also marked the one year anniversary of this blog.  For those of you that follow it, thanks!  It has been fun to maintain, although I wish I had more time to write up my astronomical adventures.  Regardless, on to the main topic...

To celebrate the best 15 years of our lives, Beth and I decided to take a trip to Kauai, Hawaii for our anniversary- and it lived up to all of our expectations.  The only other Hawaiian Island we had visited was Maui, and as it turned out, Kauai was in a league of it's own.  It is referred to as the 'garden island' and that moniker is well deserved.  Many movies and TV shows with tropical settings have been filmed there from Jurassic Park, to the remake of King Kong, and the television series Lost.  There is simply no way in writing or even in pictures to capture the remarkable beauty of the island.  We arrived on Kauai on Dec. 21st which was the Winter Solstice- I had been up all night prior to our trip as it was a total lunar eclipse- the picture at left is looking west from our balcony just prior to sunrise on Dec. 22.

One of the reasons that I did not get this post up sooner was feeling somewhat overwhelmed with all that I wanted to write about.  I have decided that I will actually write very little, the trip was after all about sharing our love for each other- if you want to details, email me or take me out for a drink!  At the bottom of the post, is a slideshow of some of our photos and if you click on it, it will take you to the album itself where you can look more closely at the images.  One of the things you will notice throughout the pictures is the lack of people.  Christmas and New Years are two of the busiest weeks in Hawaii, and despite that we often had large swaths of beaches and trails entirely to ourselves.  At right is a picture of my beautiful wife hiking along a cliff top as we explored a series of beaches in the Maha'ulepu area.  This was a stunning area, accessible by dirt road, that was composed of three distinct beaches with fascinating cliffs separating them.

I had a good time seeking out the numerous blow holes in the cliffs  that would expel air and/or water as the waves and currents surged below.  The image at left gives you an idea of the power behind these, as Beth is perched over a dry blow hole on a cliff that is easily 40 feet above the ocean...that is not a trendy Hawaiian hairstyle, it is the air being expelled from the hole in the cliff top.

The week we spent in Kauai  was amazing- probably like most folks that visit we decided that we are going to move to Hawaii and maybe we can make it happen.  As wonderful as the island was, the time we spent together was a strong reminder of why we decided to get married 15 years ago.  For a trip that was about celebrating love and commitment, Kauai was the perfect background.

Finally, as promised, here is the slideshow.  Again, click on it and it will take you to the album itself...enjoy!