Solar Training

Last week we took full advantage of this heat wave Melbourne is currently experiencing and did quite a bit of observing in the daytime.

First up on Monday, Vikram and I went down to Bellarine Secondary College in Ocean Grove, first to train the teachers on setting up the telescope for Solar observing and then to give the students at the Ocean Grove campus their first look at and through the telescope. With crystal clear skies and the Sun warming us up quickly, we set up near some shade next to the oval. We had the additional sight of the daytime Moon out as well. While we were taking some photos and waiting for Recess to start, Ethan came by, had a look at the Moon and then took some photos for us. I asked Ethan for a quote, “Awesome” was the succinct but highly apt description he gave me. Ethan was obviously very keen as he came back at recess and then managed to swing past again between classes. Looking forward to seeing you at the evening sessions!

Ethan taking a photo of the Moon

Ethan taking a photo of the Moon

Daytime Moon shot taken by Ethan Newnham on 4/3/2013

Daytime Moon shot taken by Ethan Newnham on 4/3/2013

Image of the Sun taken at Ocean Grove on 4/3/2012

Image of the Sun taken at Ocean Grove on 4/3/2013

During recess, much of the school came along to see what was going on, what that big thing was and what were we looking at. Many students were surprised the Moon was out during the day and when we looked back at the Sun, everyone was surprised those tiny spots on the Sun were around about the same size as the Earth!

After recess we had one Year 8 Science class looking at the Moon through a Moon filter, then they got to view the Sun. They were asked to draw in the Sunspots for that day and answer some questions about the Sunspots. By 11:30, the heat had really increased, so we decided to restrict ourselves to the shade and focussed on the Moon. The next class of Year 8 Science students were fascinated by the shimmering of the Moon caused by the heated atmosphere, especially as the Moon moved closer to the horizon.

We found out some interesting things about Sunspots too. They are caused by magnetic disturbances on the surface of the Sun and increase and decrease with a cycle of 11 years. This year is supposed to be a maximum in the cycle, but we are seeing only a very small number. For more info on why this is happening, start with this link.

On Wednesday, I held a training session for all the new and old volunteers for the program. We took the last telescope out of it’s box and put it together from scratch. Everyone got the opportunity to look at each component and have a good play with the telescope.

The telescope being set up by the Astro group members

The telescope being set up by the Astro group members

We then set up outside the Physics building at the University of Melbourne to do some Solar observing. We got the chance to run through the alignment process and how to use the remote and focus. We also used a couple of different methods to take some images of the Sun.

Sun and Sunspots taken on 6/3/2013

Sun and Sunspots taken on 6/3/2013

Solar observing is all very well, but the Volunteers were keen to see what was in the night sky as well, especially as Comet PANSTARRS was in the South Western sky just after sunset. So we took the telescope out that night as well! Pizza was ordered and devoured, the telescope was set up and we were up and running.

Astro Students aligning the telescope

Astro Students aligning the telescope

Some sensational map reading and determination from Katie saw the telescope trained on the Comet. A fuzzy ball of light with a tail, undeniably a comet. Unfortunately, to the South of us was the University, then Melbourne City, so the ambient light was to say the least, getting in our way. Add that with the stadium lights over the hockey field, one of which was right next to our view of the comet, it was lucky we saw anything at all! Unfortunately clouds came in before we had the chance to take a decent image. Now is the time to start looking for Comet Lemmon which has quite good viewing in the South Western sky

Resolved Alpha Centauri taken by Craig Burnett

Resolved Alpha Centauri taken by Craig Burnett

Next we had a look at the binary system of Alpha Centauri (or Rigel Kent) one of the pointers to the Southern Cross. We were easily able to resolve the two stars and Craig took this photo with my instant camera – which never fails! Lastly we turned the telescope to the Jewel Box cluster and the photographers took over. Olia took this image of the cluster and you can see the brilliant colours of the stars. Such a sensational night, we are doing it again this week. I look forward to showing you the images as we hopefully get a chance to look towards the North were there is much less light pollution (comparatively anyway).

Jewel Box Cluster taken by Olia Borzyak

Jewel Box Cluster taken by Olia Borzyak

Lastly on Friday, I headed out to Suzanne Cory HS in Werribee to do some solar observing with a Year 10 Science class. Unfortunately, that morning the clouds had finally won and our clear skies had disappeared. We set up regardless and when there was a break in the clouds, the students raced out to have a look. Patience was required as the clouds slowly broke up and passed in and out of our view. The clouds did give us a very eerie view of the Sun and the Sunspots also made an appearance. The clouds were kind enough to give everyone at least a glimpse of the Sunspots and they did get the last laugh. The moment I had finished packing up and was signing out, the clouds disappeared!!! Hoping to try again this Friday and given the variety of weather predicted for the end of this week, who knows what we will get. I guess I will fill you in on what happened next week.

Hope you enjoyed looking at all of our pictures as much as we enjoyed taking them!

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One comment on “Solar Training

  1. Pingback: Astronomy everywhere | Telescopes in Schools

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