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How to get started in Solar Astronomy

How to get started in Solar Astronomy

Often overshadowed (no pun intended) by the night sky and all of the vibrant celestial objects that it reveals, one very fascinating sub-niche of the Astronomy hobby is Solar Astronomy - the study of the closest star to Earth (and the only star in our Solar System), otherwise known as: the Sun. 

To get started in Solar Astronomy, you will need some specialized equipment to safely observe the Sun. Here are some essential items:

Dedicated Solar Telescope

A solar Telescope is specially designed to observe the Sun. It has a built-in filter module that blocks out most of the light from the Sun, allowing you to view it safely. You might want to consider the following options:

  • Lunt Solar Systems specializes in manufacturing high-quality Solar Telescopes & Accessories. They offer a few beginner-friendly Solar Telescopes, including the Lunt 40mm (LS40THa) and Lunt 50mm (LS50THa) Dedicated H-alpha Telescopes. Alternatively, Lunt also offer 'Modular' or 'Universal' Telescopes in 60mm, 80mm, 100mm, 130mm Apertures - which can be used for both daytime (Solar viewing) and night-time viewing. 
  • DayStar Filters is a reputable manufacturer of high-quality Solar Telescopes & Accessories, catering to beginners, amateur astronomers, and professional users. Their lineup of Solar Telescopes include the Solar Scout Dedicated H-Alpha Telescope - available in 60mm & 80mm, and the SolaREDi Dedicated H-Alpha Telescope in 127mm.

Solar Filter

Solar Filters are an accessory that are used to block out most of the Sun's light when viewing through your Telescope. Solar filters come in different types of material, including glass, film, and metal-coated. It's worth noting that a Solar Filter will typically be included as a primary component of a Lunt or DayStar dedicated Solar Telescope, however - they can also be purchased as individual accessories (Note: compatibility requirements may vary). See below a list of the main types of Solar filters:

White-Light Filters: 

  • White Light Filters are used to observe the Sun in visible light. They block most of the Sun's light and reduce its brightness to a safe level. They reveal sunspots, granulation, and faculae.
Image of the Sun taken through a White Light Filter
  • White Light Solar Filters are typically budget-friendly, and can simply be added to the front of the primary Lens of most Telescopes (size requirements will vary). For example, you could consider the Explore Scientific "Sun Catcher" Sun Filter, which is available in various different sizes - to fit your requirements.
  • Furthermore, renowned Smart Telescope manufacturers such as Unistellar, and Vaonis, have made their revolutionary Computerized Smart Telescopes capable of Solar viewing by developing their own lines of White Light Filters, designed specifically for their respective Telescopes. View the Vaonis Vespera Solar Filter here, and the Unistellar Smart Solar Filter here
  • H-Alpha filters isolate the specific wavelength of light emitted by ionized hydrogen in the Sun's chromosphere. They reveal a lot of details in the Sun's surface features, such as prominences, flares, and filaments. 
Image of the Sun taken through an H-alpha Filter
  • In regards to Lunt's product configurations for H-Alpha, their Solar Telescopes consist of an internal H-Alpha module - which is integrated into the Telescopes optical tube assembly. Additionally, a Blocking Filter (in a Diagonal or Straight-Through tube) will also be required - as it provides additional filtering to further narrow the bandwith of light, thus enhancing the view of H-Alpha features & detail. It also blocks any residual harmful light (UV, IR etc) from both the Observer and the Telescope. 
  • In regards to DayStar's product configurations for H-Alpha, their Solar Scout Telescopes are equipped with their signature and user-friendly Quark H-Alpha Eyepiece Solar Filter, which includes internal components that block UV & IR light effectively. However, if you wish to pair the DayStar Quark Filter (or the 'Combo' Quark) with a non-DayStar Telescope, additional components may be required for safety. 
  • Calcium-K & Calcium-H filters isolate the specific wavelength of light emitted by ionized calcium in the Sun's chromosphere. These filters show the Sun's magnetic field, which is responsible for sunspots and other magnetic phenomena.
  • Calcium-K Filters are typically preferred by Astronomers, as they provide slightly more contrast, making it easier to observe certain solar features. 
Image of the Sun taken through a Calcium-K Filter
  • Calcium-H Filters are less commonly used, but they can still reveal similar solar features.

Image taken by DayStar Calcium-H Filter

 

Mount

A stable mount is essential to keep your telescope steady during observation. In most cases, Solar Astronomers will want to take pictures of their Solar observations. Given this, a Computerized Alt-Az or EQ Mount that can automatically point to, and track, the Sun will be ideal. 

Eyepieces

Different eyepieces can provide different magnifications and views of the Sun. It is recommended to have a set of eyepieces with different focal lengths. We recommend one Medium Power Eyepiece (10mm-20mm), and one Low Power Eyepiece (20mm-30mm). Alternatively, rather than purchasing multiple different fixed Eyepieces, you could consider purchasing a Zoom Eyepiece (such as the Lunt 7.2mm-21.5mm Zoom Eyepiece) - which will allow you to experiment with different magnifications - all from one Eyepiece.

Camera

A digital camera, such as a DSLR or a Smartphone, can be attached to your telescope to capture images of the Sun.

Solar Viewing Glasses

When you are not observing through a telescope, you can use solar viewing glasses to view the Sun safely. These glasses block out most of the Sun's light, allowing you to see it without damaging your eyes. The Explore Scientific Solar Eclipse Glasses are a highly-recommended option.

NOTE: It is important to remember that observing the Sun can be dangerous if proper safety precautions are not taken. Always use the appropriate equipment and follow safety guidelines to protect your eyes and equipment.

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