Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sunspot Hexagon

Lots of Spots

I thought my previous solar observing session would surely be the last of the year. But a combination of favorable conditions on December 17th made it hard to resist another look at the Sun. It was 54 degrees, with clear skies and a gentle wind, and the Sun had recently produced a swarm of sunspots.

Wearing only a light jacket I set up my equipment and expected the usual efficient, trouble-free start of observations. Not this time! Something was wrong with the Internet connection. The mount control software could not synchronize with a standard time source. Finally, after many wasted minutes restarting the computer and resetting the modem/router, the software's clock was eventually set to the correct time. In the next step, apparently, the mount did not properly reach its initial "home" position. Consequently, the telescope did not point toward the Sun when commanded to slew there. Then a wire got caught between moving parts in the mount causing the mount to jam. I shut everything down and restarted. The mount, once again, did not properly home. So I pointed the telescope manually toward the Sun and disconnected the mount from the computer. Since the mount is nearly polar aligned, it still tracked the Sun very well. I used the hand controller rather than the computer to move around the Sun. After all this I was, finally, able to successfully gather images. I'm really nervous about the homing error. This has never happened before. I hope it can be corrected without sending the mount back to Software Bisque. 

In spite of the initial difficulties I enjoyed capturing a spectacular array of sunspots forming an irregular hexagon centered on the solar disc. The following imperfect 16-image mosaic shows a beautiful variety of features spread across the disc. (Click on the images below for larger views.)
Next is a closer detailed view of the irregular sunspot hexagon.
The two largest sunspots are at the bottom of the previous picture. Spot 2241 is the one on the left. Spot 2242 is on the right. The following image is a closer view of these two showing lots of complicated structure in good detail.
These images were captured only 4 days before the winter solstice when the Sun is lowest in the sky. My wonderful new observing site makes imaging possible all year round.

Friday, December 12, 2014

December Sun

Anomalous Warmth

Winter is approaching. The Sun ignores Earthly seasons.

I've never used my solar telescope in cold December, but, on this December 1st, it was 65 degrees, warm enough to observe in a t-shirt! At my previous home in Lynchburg the Sun was hidden behind trees and houses in December. At my new home Sun-blocking obstacles don't interfere. The seeing was surprisingly decent in spite of persistent southerly wind. Sunspots, filaments, and prominences were on display.

The following 36-image mosaic shows most of the solar features visible on December 1st. The western edge of the Sun (on the right) has many filaments, some small sunspots about to rotate out of view, and large prominences on the rim. Single sunspot 2218 is above center, and large sunspot 2222 is below center. All these features show up particularly well in a larger view. (Click on the images below for larger views.)
The previous image was constructed from the best 40 frames of individual 400-frame videos. The next image was constructed from the best 100 frames of individual 1,000-frame videos. Details are slightly sharper in the following 16-image mosaic.
I was pleased with the fine detail in the following close view of sunspot 2222.
Finally, I attempted a 17-image mosaic of prominences. Unfortunately, this mosaic is imperfect. Brightness is uneven around the circle because my best mosaic-making software, for some reason, refused to construct a circle from the 17 separate images. Photoshop Elements was able to make the circle, but did a poor job blending pictures of different brightness.
The weather has turned ugly since December 1st. Even if I'm unable to observe again in 2014, I've had my best observing year so far.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Giant Sunspot Returns

Enormous Spot Lives On

On November 15th observing conditions were not ideal. The afternoon temperature was a chilly 45 degrees. Seeing was poor, and the Sun was low. Nevertheless, it was an opportunity to observe the return of a monumental long-lived sunspot.

Sunspots come and go, but, occasionally, they can last for weeks. Sunspot 2192 ranked among the largest spots observed in recent times. After rotating westward across the Sun's disc for more than a week, it disappeared around the western limb on October 30th. The Sun continued turning, and the spot crossed the Sun's back side for 14 days. It then reappeared on the eastern limb on November 13th. The following 9-image mosaic shows the enduring spot on November 15th. The long-lasting spot had been renumbered as 2209, and appears at lower left.
Huge prominences also appeared on the eastern limb making a dramatic mix of features as shown in the following 6-image mosaic.
Next is a closer view of sunspot 2209 alongside a properly sized image of Earth so you can see how large the spot truly is.
I set up equipment too late this day. The afternoon Sun lost altitude quickly, and increasing clouds destroyed a previously clear sky. This observing session ended after only 31 minutes. It might be my last session for the year now that it's getting too cold for comfortable work with the telescope.

People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin
When I say that I'm o.k. well they look at me kind of strange
Surely you're not happy now you no longer play the game

People say I'm lazy dreaming my life away
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me
When I tell them that I'm doing fine watching shadows on the wall
Don't you miss the big time boy you're no longer on the ball

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go

John Lennon