UPEI giving people a chance to get up close and personal with the sun

UPEI is inviting people to come get up close and personal with the sun by using their solar telescope.

Bi-weekly solar viewings allow people to see the atmosphere of the sun

A special telescope is required to look at the surface of the sun. (Travis Kingdon/CBC News)

UPEI is inviting people to come get up close and personal with the sun by using their solar telescope. 

By using the special telescope, the physics department at the university is giving people a chance to look at the atmosphere of the sun, said Megan Glover, laboratory technician at UPEI. 

The viewings are part of the university's efforts to further education on the Island, and a way for those in the physics department to share their love of astronomy with Islanders, said Glover. 

To view the atmosphere and surface of the sun, specialized telescopes must be used. These telescopes reduce the brightness of the sun, allowing it to be safely viewed by the human eye, she said. 

More than meets the eye

These solar viewings are a prime opportunity to get a unique look at a star, Glover said.  

"By doing these daytime solar viewings we're getting to get a look at a typical star more so than you can by looking at more distant stars at nighttime," said Glover. 

People are often surprised to find the sun is circular in shape, says Glover. (Travis Kingdon/CBC News)

At first, it might just look like a big red ball, but actually there is quite a lot to see, Glover said. 

"If you look more closely you see kind of like splotches across a surface. And that's due to the larger scale of convection that's going on in the sun," she said. 

"Because the sun is a fluid and it's actually plasma, and the hot stuff rises and the cool stuff flows down, and you can kind of see traces of that on the sun." 

On top of this, people can also see sunspots and large arcs, called a prominence, extending from the surface of the sun. 

"The really cool thing about them is that although they look really small on the scale of the sun they are often bigger than the scale of the Earth because the sun is a hundred-times the diameter of the Earth," said Glover. 

By focusing on the sun, the viewings allow people to experience the rotation of the Earth as well, as the telescope needs to be repositioned frequently to keep up as the Earth moves, shifting the sun out of the viewfinder, she said. 

Special telescope

The telescope used to view the atmosphere of the sun is a hydrogen alpha telescope, said Glover. 

It reduces the light output from the sun and filters out all the colours except for a specific shade of red emitted by the hydrogen of the sun's atmosphere, she said.

Viewings are held every other week, depending on the weather. (Travis Kingdon/CBC News)

For a small telescope like the one used for the solar viewings, the cost ranges from $1,000-$2,000 used, she said. 

Viewings run every other week — depending on the weather — until the end of August, from 12:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m. outside of the entrance to the engineering and physics building at UPEI.

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