This term has been quite busy organizing the Astrophotography component of the program, so I will have lots of great images to show you soon as the schools have been getting right on board and taking lots and lots of photos. You have seen the image of the Moon we stitched together at Taylors Lakes. Since then I headed back during the day time to look at the Sun and more images of the Moon and Sun were taken as the Year 7s and heaps more had their first close up look at the Sun and sunspots.
Why look at the Sun, you ask? There was no eclipse or Transit, you say. You have to realize that the Sun is cool to look at on any day and that there are a number of satellites whose sole purpose is just to look at the Sun. SOHO and Yohkoh are two such satellites who look at the Sun in a variety of wavelengths so we can study the Sun’s magnetic field, it’s surface temperature, Coronial Mass Ejections (CMEs) and more. At Taylors Lakes SC, the Year 7 students had been studying the Sun and were eager to spot some sunspots.
Sunspots are interesting in themselves as the number of sunspots oscillates over an 11 year cycle. We are currently in a cycle peak, but not experiencing as many sunspots as we would expect, which has scientists baffled. During the maximum, we have a lot more CMEs, some of which are directed towards Earth. This in turn means aurora around the poles and possible disruption to power supplies and electrical equipment. It also means the Sun is about to swap it’s magnetic field, which also happens every 11 years when we have a maximum of sunspots. It did surprise a lot of students that some of these sunspots are bigger than the Earth!
So what are sunspots? In a nutshell; a cold spot on the surface of the Sun caused by disturbances in the Sun’s magnetic field. As the Sun is essentially a ball of fluid, the equator moves faster than the poles and the magnetic field gets disrupted as can be seen in this great video. They also come in pairs like two poles of a magnet. You can follow these spots over the course of a week or two to determine the time of one Solar rotation – the time taken for the Sun to rotate once.
So on the day of our solar viewing, we had classes of Year 7’s looking through the telescope and counting the sunspots. It does take a while for your eyes to adjust, but we were counting up to 14 sunspots. Many of the Science and Math classes came out to have a look as well and there was recess and lunchtime with more students. In all, well over 200 students saw the Sun that day. Many teachers also dropped by, the English/History teacher made the comment; ‘why didn’t I study Science?’ Why indeed??
A great day of viewing, lots of images of the Sun and the Moon through the clouds. And just to give you a better idea of the number of students looking through the telescope, the queue was like this most of the day!
I headed back to Taylors Lakes during National Science Week to talk to a small group of Year 7 students. The idea was to look at the Sun through the telescope and do some activities.
Unfortunately the rain had other ideas, so we were kept inside. Yet this meant we got to go though how to set up and align the telescope in detail, we then did the Pocket Solar System and looked at the relative sizes of the Sun, Moon and Earth to get a better feel for where we are in the Solar System.
Some of the Year 7’s have put together some presentations of their work investigating the Sun. You can find their great work in the links below.