Shooting the Sun


What I know about shooting the sun was from some brief experiments as a kid. I wanted to shoot an eclipse of the sun. I at least knew enough not to look directly at the sun. The lens of the eye acts like a magnifying lens and focuses the image of the sun on the retina and will burn or damage the eye. It’s obvious, but don’t look directly into the sun. As a kid I was told that several layers of opaque developed film would filter sunlight enough to look directly. Otherwise there were indirect ways to look at the sun.

This summer David and I were on Governor’s Island. A science demonstration was set up in an open field and a series of sun telescopes were on display. We curiously approached and two men were bent over their instruments making adjustments and muttering to one another. It turns out that they were representatives of the telescope company. They were more than happy to demonstrate how the telescopes worked. Each was heavily filtered to protect the eyes. “What was the purpose or need?” you might ask. Well they were observing solar flare activity. Plasma was being expelled from the sun in long slow moving plumes. The clouds were sparse but interfered with the observations.The shadows on the sun’s disc are actually the overhead clouds.

I asked about imaging. A simple down and dirty way to get an image was to put a point and shoot camera on the observation lens of the telescope. We did just that and got a shot. Go figure. Actually, Julia had already showed me this trick in Africa. She shot pictures through my binoculars with her point and shoot camera. And wouldn’t you know it, the images were quite serviceable.

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