The Fun of Solar Imaging

This image of the Sun was taken by the author using a hydrogen alpha filter.

By Jim Haklar

A lot has been written about the benefits of solar power as a “green” source of energy.  But have you ever wondered what that source of energy actually looks like?  While we can’t look directly at the Sun without protection for our eyes, we can use special equipment to see the Sun in all its glory.

Astrophotography is one of my hobbies, and often on a clear day I’ll take my telescope and camera out at lunchtime and take pictures of the Sun.  I have special filters that allow me to see the different types of light that the Sun gives off.  One type of light is called “hydrogen alpha,” and with my hydrogen alpha filter the Sun really looks alive!  Just like all of us, the Sun goes through periods when it is more active and less active.  For the Sun, these periods come in 11- year cycles and scientists are predicting that in the current cycle the Sun will be most active next year.  But even now many solar features can be seen.

Loops of gas called prominences are present at the edge of the Sun; when prominences cross over the face of the Sun they look like ribbons and are called filaments.  Sometimes huge surface explosions called solar flares can also be seen, as well as sunspots.  The Sun is so big (over 800,000 miles across) that all of the features I’ve described are usually larger than the Earth.  Talk about solar power!

About the Author: Jim is an Environmental Engineer out of EPA’s Edison, New Jersey facility, where he manages PCB cleanups.  Over the last 27 years he has worked in a number of different programs within EPA, including Superfund, water management, and public affairs.   He has been an avid amateur astronomer for over 30 years.