To safely undertake solar observing you need a specially constructed solar telescope or at least one adapted for solar viewing by someone who knows what he/she is doing. If you feel like having a go at solar observing yourself, first head down to your local astronomical society where you'll find lots of helpful and potentially sight-saving advice. Don't just give it a bash with that old scope you have in the garage - it really can be very dangerous in ways that are not immediately obvious.
The sun changes every hour, every day. There are sunspots, flares, faculae and all sorts of interesting things to look at but they’re not there all the time. Some days, it's not that interesting. So what's often needed is something that is really easy to just grab, take outside, have a quick look and 50% of the time bring straight back in again. So I've tried to keep the weight of this piece to an absolute minimum.
For visual observations a solar telescope doesn't need a particularly sophisticated mount so I opted for simple alt azimuth (up, down and sideways) mount with brass cased Teflon bearings. The Earth's atmosphere will limit you to fairly low magnifications during a sunny day so simple hand tracking is more than adequate. Such an Alt-Az mount also minimises set up time because it doesn't have to be aligned with the Earth's axis.
One seemingly unlikely problem is actually finding the sun. Sure it's the big bright thing in the sky. But everything except the sun looks pitch black in a solar telescope - so how do you get it to point straight at the sun without squinting down the tube into the sun and most likely damaging your eyesight? The answer is a little solar finder which essentially is just a pinhole to cast a spot of sunlight and a screen with a bullseye dot on it. Put the light dot on the mark and the telescope's pointing straight at the sun without having to actually look at it.
Of course once you do find the sun, the blaze of light it creates down the length of the telescope makes looking through the eyepiece quite difficult so this scope is equipped with a shade umbrella that stores in the shaft of the mount and unfolds to provide a nice shady observing position. Notice how there's a hole in the umbrella so the finder can still see the sun.
I wanted the eyepieces to be stored with the telescope so the whole package could be transported out in one go but of course I didn't want them to get all dusty (especially important in a solar scope!) The solution, eyepiece hats :)
This beautiful photograph was taken by noted solar photographer Greg Piepol, who's site contains some fantastic images and advice on solar viewing, Greg's image gives you a fairly good idea of what the sun looks like through a medium aperture narrow bandpass h-alpha scope.
Please don't point just any old telescope at the sun because it will instantly and seriously damage your sight. The one I've used as a basis for this work is a commercially made unit from Coronado (now owned by Meade) and is designed for the sole purpose of safe solar observing. Always make sure that any optical instrument you point at the sun was designed specifically for that purpose by a reputable manufacturer and don't modify the optics.
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