Friday, December 18, 2015

Dramatic Solar Landscape

Sunspot and Prominence

December has been unusually warm this year in Virginia. December 16th was an especially beautiful day! Late morning temperature stood in the low 50's. Seeing was good, no clouds were visible in the blue sky, and only a gentle breeze puffed from time to time. I was quite comfortable wearing only a sweater.

On the 16th the Sun finally displayed exciting features after many nearly blank days. One large sunspot and one giant prominence were neighbors on the Sun's eastern half. The first image below shows a wide view containing most of the interesting features. It is a 16-panel mosaic made with a 5X Barlow lens. Each individual panel was made by stacking the best 100 frames from 2,000-frame videos. (Click on the images for a larger view.)
Next is a 6-panel mosaic capturing the two outstanding features. Each individual panel in this image was made by stacking the best 80 frames from 1,000-frame videos. Sunspot group 2470 has one large umbra on the right and a collection of smaller umbras on the left. A magnificent prominence arches up on the limb.
The sunspot and prominence were close enough together to fit in one frame in the following dramatic scene.
Finally, lots of complicated structure can be seen in sunspot group 2470 in the next image. There are gradations of darkness in the large umbra on the right, and smaller umbras on the left look like they want to join up. Good seeing revealed fine details in the penumbra. This image was made by stacking the best 100 frames from a 3000-frame video. (Click on the images for a larger view.)
The Sun was so beautiful on this rare lovely December day!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving Sunspot Parade

Modest Sunspots

By 10 am on November 26th, Thanksgiving day, the temperature was 52 degrees. Thin clouds had completely cleared. There was no wind. It was an amazing mild day for late November, warm enough to sit without a jacket at my telescope.

The following 24-panel mosaic shows most of the solar features on display this balmy morning. A large prominence floated above the limb on the right. Three modest sunspots were on parade along a diagonal line across the disc. Two filaments were on the right. Seeing was not particularly good while capturing images for this mosaic. Consequently, some component parts are a little blurry.
The previous mosaic was constructed by stacking the best 40 frames from individual 400-frame video clips. Seeing improved a bit while the next mosaic was captured. Next below is a 10-panel mosaic with each panel made by stacking the best 100 frames from individual 1,000-frame video clips. The three sunspots are sharper here. (Click on the images for a larger view.)
Seeing kept improving, so I tried capturing 2,000-frame videos to make the next 4-panel mosaic spanning only the three sunspots. I stacked the best 100 images from the 2,000 frame videos. From left to right the sunspots are numbers 2459, 2458, and 2457. The detail is really good in this image! (Click on the image for a larger view.)
Some nice prominences and spicules on the Sun's western limb are shown in this 9-panel mosaic.
Next is a closeup view of sunspot 2458.
Finally, a close view of sunspot 2457.
The temperature rose to 56 degrees as the Sun approached the meridian. Unfortunately, seeing kept getting worse after the brief excellent spell. I quit before noon. It was a pleasant surprise to get these images on Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Dramatic Filament Ring

Tiny Sunspots

As fall proceeds solar observing opportunities diminish. The Sun is low in the sky, and it gets uncomfortably cold. Remarkable solar features have been rare lately. On November 14th, however, a giant filament was on display. Conditions were good before noon. It was completely clear, 52 degrees, and somewhat windy. Seeing conditions were better than predicted.

The dramatic, long-lived filament ring was nicely centered on the Sun's face as seen in the following imperfect 36-panel mosaic. Tiny sunspots are almost invisible. (Click on the image for a larger view.) Can you find any sunspots in the larger view? One tall wispy prominence hangs above the right limb. Seeing was good for most of the 36 images used to construct the mosaic, but it deteriorated during capture of the last few blurry images near the top of the Sun.
An inverted view always displays filaments nicely.
The large curving filament was captured in good detail in the following cropped portion of a 13-panel mosaic.
Only one small sunspot was easily visible on the disc. Sunspot 2454 is right of center in this region from the left side of the large disc mosaic above.
The filament ring lifted spectacularly off the solar surface and disappeared on November 15th. I was lucky to find it intact and so well placed on November 14th.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Lost Opportunity

Complicated Sunspot

October 30th was the perfect fall day for solar observing. It was 60 degrees and not one single cloud appeared in the blue sky. A light breeze ruffled my papers. I settled in for a comfortable uninterrupted afternoon with my telescope. Good fortune ended when I tried to open FireCapture, the software that operates my camera. An error message appeared. The "Java Virtual Machine Launcher" told me it "could not create Java virtual machine". Why did this have to happen on such a perfect day?

I had installed a Java update two days before October 30th. Apparently, the update changed a crucial setting somewhere in the mysterious hidden jungle of computer code. So, most of the beautiful afternoon went by while I tried to fix the problem. I looked for driver updates and online troubleshooting tips as wasted minutes ticked on. Nothing solved the problem. Eventually, I operated the camera with bare bones software shipped with the camera itself. This software was a very poor substitute for FireCapture. I struggled with unfamiliar settings and inefficient features. In the end, I was able to produce only two decent pictures.

The next two images show amazing sunspot 2443 not long after it rotated into view around the Sun's eastern limb. A large prominence was located nearby. The sunspot was flaring with lots of neighborhood motion. I had planned to make a time lapse video of this activity, but the software problem canceled that plan. A few days after these images were made the sunspot was more centered on the solar disc. Then its complicated structure was more clearly visible. Two large umbras on the right were trailed by a bunch of smaller umbras stretched out in a long line. This is one of the most unusual sunspot arrangements I've seen. Both images below are 2-panel mosaics. Since they were taken at two different times, there is a slight difference between the images, mostly visible in the prominence and limb features.
After packing up my equipment I emailed the genius who created FireCapture asking for help with my Java problem. He unexpectedly responded quickly with instructions for how to reset parameters within FireCapture. Thanks to his amazing generosity the software now properly operates my camera. But I lost the opportunity to image the Sun on a perfect day.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

October Clear Spell Continues

Improved Seeing

On October 19th, one day after my previous observing session, seeing conditions were much improved. This time it was a bit warmer, with temperature ranging from 50 to 53 degrees and only a light puffy breeze. There wasn't a cloud in sight. Seeing was good enough to see pointed spicules on the solar limb. These spicules were smeared and blurry during the previous day of poor seeing. 

On this nearly perfect day there were no prominences around the edge of the Sun. But sunspots and filaments on the solar disc showed up nicely in the following 21-panel mosaic reduced to one third of the original size. (Click on the images for a larger view.)
The inverted version of the previous image highlights filaments.
The two major sunspots are 2436 on the left and 2434 on the right in the next closer view.
Near the end of my session I captured sunspot 2434 with a 2000 frame video and stacked the best 100 frames to produce the following image.
Interesting swirling structure and filaments surround the sunspot. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

October Clear Spell

Bad Seeing

Very often an extended stretch of clear skies happens during October. This year hardly any clouds appeared between October 18th and October 21st. On the 18th, the first clear day, I made a special effort to use my solar telescope since it had been more than a month since my last observing session. It was a cool 50 degrees and breezy. Seeing conditions were forecast to be poor, and the forecast was correct. Solar features were a blurry, jittery mess. Nevertheless, I captured enough videos to construct the following 29-panel imperfect mosaic which shows a modest array of solar features.
Sunspot pair 2436 is on the left near the limb. Sunspot 2434 is below center. One large prominence is on the lower left rim, and a few filaments are scattered about. The mosaic posted here has been reduced to one quarter size from the original. If you click on the image and examine it closely, you will see some blurry areas which were captured when the seeing was particularly bad.

Prominent sunspot 2434 was surrounded by some nice filaments shown in the next image made with a 5X Barlow lens.
Details in the previous image are not as sharp as they could be, but, considering how turbulent the air was, the image is not bad.

Only 40 minutes after I started capturing videos some fair weather clouds began drifting by. The seeing was so poor that I decided to end the session and hope for steadier viewing the next day. The next day actually did turn out much better as you will see in my next post.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Down By The Riverside

Glorious Day!

Some days in October are truly golden. October 12th was such a day - a perfect fall day. I took a stroll with C along the banks of the James River near Jamestown. During spring and summer a walk in this location would be plagued by mosquitoes and biting flies. But on this perfect day, there were no bugs. We walked in afternoon sunlight. The calm riverbank basked in a warm glow.
The James River was very peaceful.
Late afternoon sunshine lit the river.
Soon after leaving these quiet scenes we surprised an antlered buck grazing along the path. A hawk flew across the tree line. Crickets chirped.
I really enjoyed this lingering warm day.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Successful Mosaic

Spiky Eruption

Two cold fronts passed in succession leaving a clear sky on September 14th. Observing conditions were wonderful. Temperature ranged between 68 and 71 degrees, and a slight breeze puffed from time to time. It had been cloudy and hot nearly every day for the previous three weeks, and the Sun had been almost entirely blank. So it was nice to finally have some modest solar activity on a comfortable clear day. This Modis satellite image shows how cloud free it was over the eastern U.S. coast on September 14th. My location is marked with an arrow.
The cloudless sky gave me time to capture the entire Sun in the following 38-panel mosaic using a 5X Barlow lens. The image presented below is only one quarter the size of the original 6826 by 6284 pixel image! Four sunspots are visible in the southern hemisphere. From left to right they are numbered: 2418, 2415, 2412, and 2414. Some nice prominences adorn the eastern and western limbs. This is the most successful mosaic I've made so far with my ZWO ASI174MM camera. (Click on the images for larger views.)
The next 4-panel mosaic shows a closer view of sunspots 2418 and 2415.
Sunspots 2412 and 2414 were near prominences on the Sun's western limb.
While capturing videos for the whole disc mosaic I was lucky to see a temporary spiky eruption from the vicinity of sunspot 2418. The eruption didn't last long, probably less than 20 minutes.
Finally, I tried making an image from a 2000-frame video instead of my usual 400-frame video. The following picture of sunspot 2415 was made by stacking the best 100 frames from a 2000-frame video.
The previous image contains probably the best detail I'll ever get with my particular combination of telescope, camera, and viewing location.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

First Day of School

Kindergarten and Preschool

My granddaughters, Sophie and Annabelle, passed a major milestone last week. Sophie started kindergarten, and Annabelle started preschool. Sophie took great care preparing her backpack for the big day.
Annabelle got some breakfast in her special chair.
Then it was time for pictures. Three cameras were furiously clicking!
Grandparents took their turn in the photo limelight.
It was time to walk to the bus stop. Sophie's entourage included her Mom, sister, and three grandparents.
Sophie met a new friend at the bus stop, a kindergarten classmate. Soon they were looking for bugs together.
When the bus arrived, Sophie set off cheerfully on her new adventure.
Later, Annabelle was warmly greeted by her teacher at her special preschool.
Annabelle gets along with everybody. Soon she was happily installed in her special chair and busy with her classmates.
My earliest memories begin in kindergarten - memories of mistakes, disasters, and misunderstandings. I hope Sophie and Annabelle, instead, will have happy memories of friendships and success.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Exploring With My Granddaughter

Nature Hike

My granddaughter has discovered the joy of walking through the woods!

I was recently invited to accompany Sophie and her Mom on a little hike in neighboring forests. Just before the hike began I saw a red-shouldered hawk on a residential lawn.
Unfortunately, I brought no telephoto lens. When I approached for a closer shot, the hawk flew away and perched itself, majestically, on a rooftop.
Much to our dismayed amusement Sophie insisted on preparing a fully loaded backpack. She enjoyed stuffing her pack with essentials like crayons, markers, notepads, dolls, and snacks. She wore boots in case we wanted to walk through any water. Here Sophie and her Mom begin our adventure on the bike path ahead.
Soon Sophie wandered off the path anxious to show me where she had explored on an earlier trip.
What's more fun when you're a kid than walking through a stream? Sophie walked through overhanging vegetation where I declined to follow.
Next, it was time for a snack on the bank beside the stream.
Upon resuming our walk we encountered an amazing number of wild grape vines. As you might expect, most of the low hanging fruit had been removed, but the vines were heavy with grapes higher up. The ripe wild grapes tasted like Concord grapes.
Sophie said, "This tree looks like a fork!"
Along the shaded trail we encountered a pair of dueling butterflies. Two swallowtails seemed to be battling each other as they circled up and around us.
We next spotted an odd furry creature huddled against a tree trunk. The red glow in its eye from the camera flash made it look like a small demon from hell. We think it must be someone's pet rabbit that somehow escaped into the woods.
Soon it was time for the hike to end. Ellen and Sophie walked off to their home not far away.
It has always been my hope to encourage Sophie's curious observation of the natural world. I wanted to collect specimens along the way for her to view later through a microscope. On this trip I came upon only one, a dead green beetle which I scooped up for later examination.
A few days later I persuaded Sophie to examine the beetle through my microscope. It might be an impossible task, but I'll gently urge her to patiently examine things in detail. I've seen too many people look through an eyepiece for 3 seconds and think they've seen everything. Slow, careful observation shows the depth of nature's beauty and reveals features not noticed at first glance.
But Sophie's attention span is limited at this point. After looking at the beetle's hairy, spiky legs, Sophie pronounced them "gross and creepy". She was then eager to run off and play with something else. I hope we do more exploring in the future.

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