Ladd Observatory SunSpotter Loaning
To engage students in the study of the Sun’s spots and sunspot cycles using Brown University’s SunSpotter telescopes. Students will be able to view and sketch sunspots in real-time during the course of the observation session. Their sketched observations can be submitted to Ladd Observatory for archiving and also to be made available online for viewing for future students. The use of the SunSpotter will be accompanied by solar observation through Ladd Observatory’s Coronado SolarMax 90 H-α solar telescope. The SunSpotter program was made possible by a grant from the Champlin Foundation.
Prior to using the SunSpotter telescopes the students should obtain some background knowledge of general solar dynamics, especially that concerning the creation of sunspots. Some of this information will be provided directly and more can be obtained through online or book resources. It is important that students go into the solar observing session with at least fairly competent knowledge of what they are about to observe. Otherwise they will not be able to draw the connection between what their sketches mean and what is physically happening in the Sun.
Using the SunSpotter
The SunSpotter telescope is a user-friendly yet highly effective way to view the Sun and its spots. It differs from most other telescopes in that it does not require restrictive viewing through an eyepiece, but instead projects the Sun’s image onto an easily accessible sheet of white paper, making it great for group use and easy to create sunspot sketches.
The setup for this telescope is extremely simple and is accompanied by an instruction manual. Due to the Earth’s rotation, the SunSpotter does need to be slightly adjusted in order to keep the Sun’s projection in the viewing area. However, these adjustments are not hard to make and should become second-nature very quickly.
The use of the SunSpotter should occur over the course of about an hour or as long as you can given the duration of the class period. Obviously weather will play a significant factor in how well the SunSpotter will function. The SunSpotter can typically be used with clear to partly-cloudy skies.
It is recommended that students break up into groups of 3-5, however these numbers made need to be adjusted depending on the number of students in the class and how many SunSpotters are available. The fewer students per SunSpotter, the better. Once in their groups, each group will align their SunSpotters to the sun and start their observations. Once the sunspots are visible, the students can begin sketching them on the white paper that the Sun is projected on. It may be wise to assign a duty to each group member (e.g. one student to sketch, another student to keep alignment, etc.). It’s crucial that all students participate and perform a duty, especially if they can take turns performing different roles.
By the end of the observation session, each group should have a collection of sketches of the sunspots over time. The motion of the spots should also be discussed and related back to what has been learned about solar dynamics. The students can also compare the spots they sketch with the views through the Coronado SolarMax 90 telescope, which will be setup nearby.
Before allowing the students to view it is important to educate each of the students about Sun viewing safety. It should be impressed upon each student NOT TO LOOK DIRECTLY INTO THE SUN as this could cause permanent eye damage.
The key attributes of sunspot observing are their shape, their location and how many are present at a given time. All of these factors are important data that will be need to be collected by each group.
Once the students have finished creating their sketches they will be submitted to the Ladd Observatory staff where they will be archived and posted online for future viewing. This will allow students to access their sketches at any time as well as allow future students to view the past archive of what has been achieved. It is hoped that after a long enough timeline a time series of sunspot data can be constructed and compared with the Sun’s natural sunspot cycle.
If you have any questions or comments feel free to contact mikeu. Ladd Observatory has public viewing nights every Tuesday night, weather permitting. We strongly encourage any and all students to make a visit. To learn more about public viewing nights visit the Ladd Observatory website at http://brown.edu/ladd.
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