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By Mark Jankowski
Wake up Sun, it is time for the next cycle.
Sun-lovers worried about the sun and its lazy low period of activity need not worry any more. NASA has stated the sun is finally waking up. The solar activity that happened during the first week of August was the factor that led to the recent news release that the sun was waking up from the unusual period of low activity called a solar minimum.
As the sun wakes from its minimum, it builds in activity until it reaches a solar maximum, which will be in the year 2013.
During Ingram Planetarium’s weekly solar view, everyone was happy to see a sunspot, finally.
As the sun wakes up and activity increases, an understanding of the solar features is a necessity.
NASA has several excellent online sites to learn about the sun, and to obtain an understanding of solar activities.
At Ingram Planetarium, the staff refers to these sites before taking out the solar telescope in preparation for a viewing. This research tells the staff where to look on the solar disk. This aided us in viewing a sunspot on Aug. 5 during our Sun-Fun family program.
The solar image is a bit of a shock to visitors when they look through the solar telescope. No one seems to think he or she will see a big red-orange beach ball as they look in the end of the telescope. The color is a result of the solar telescope’s filters that permit a safe viewing. The photosphere, the region of the sun that produces visible light, is the image in the scope.
As a person’s eyes adjust to looking though the scope, a cellar texture becomes barely visible. This texture is solar granulation. The granules are from the region under the photosphere called the convection zone. The average size compares to the state of Texas. Much more is visible looking through the solar scope.
A sunspot is a darkened area that on average is the size of Earth; however, spots can be much larger than Earth all the way to the size Jupiter.
The spot is just a little cooler than the surrounding area making it appear dark; the spot is brighter than the full moon.
A disturbance in the magnetic field of the sun slows hot gasses from rising to the photosphere causing the area to be cooler. Solar flares happen at the edge of these magnetic disturbances on the photosphere. Flares seen on the edge of the solar disk look somewhat like a flame rising from the sun. The power release of a flare is equal to billions of nuclear bombs exploding at the same time.
The sun’s visible activity viewed through the planetarium’s solar scope results from the magnetic fields of the sun. Two extremely interesting features are the same thing but have to different names. This would make an excellent trivia question.
Riddle me this, Star-man: As a person peers through the scopes objective lens, he or she may see a thin line looking like a hair on the lens. This is a solar filament, an arch of gas that rises up from one magnetic point and flows along a magnetic line down to a different area of the sun. These filaments look dark again because it is cooler therefore not as bright. The second object is a prominence, when a filament is on the side of the solar disk, so it flows out from the side; easily seen as a prominent feature, a beautiful arch of bright gas of the side of the solar disk or a prominence.
Come to Ingram Planetarium and learn some more.
Mark Jankowski is a senior technician at Ingram Planetarium. Reach him at email@example.com or by calling 575-0033.