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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:
Solar Telescope: A solar telescope is specially designed to observe the Sun. It has a built-in filter 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, dedicated Solar Telescopes. They offer a few beginner-friendly Solar Telescopes, including the Lunt 40mm (LS40THa) and Lunt 50mm (LS50THa) Dedicated H-alpha models. 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.
- Alternatively, another (and more limited) option to purchasing a dedicated Solar Telescope would be to simply purchase a 'White Light' Solar Filter - and add it to your Telescope. For example, you could consider purchasing the Explore Scientific "Sun Catcher" Sun Filter, which is available in various different sizes - to fit different Telescope primary lens sizes.
- 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, which are designed specifically for their Telescopes. View the Vaonis Vespera Solar Filter here, and the Unistellar Smart Solar Filter here.
- White-Light Filters: These 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. White-light filters reveal sunspots, granulation, and faculae.
- Hydrogen-alpha (H-alpha) Filters: These filters isolate the specific wavelength of light emitted by ionized hydrogen in the Sun's chromosphere. H-alpha filters reveal a lot of details in the Sun's surface features, such as prominences, flares, and filaments.
- Calcium-K (Ca-K) Filters: These filters isolate the specific wavelength of light emitted by ionized calcium in the Sun's chromosphere. Ca-K filters show the Sun's magnetic field, which is responsible for sunspots and other magnetic phenomena.
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.