I just got in from observing the sun with my little refracting telescope. My attention was riveted by a huge sunspot group on the eastern half of the sun’s disk that’s been growing larger and feistier by the day. I even saw it without any telescope at all through a pair of safe filtered glasses. Naked-eye sunspots you can see from your own front yard are uncommon and quicken the pulse of any solar observer.
Solar weather forecasters with NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center are calling for minor to major magnetic storms from a coronal mass ejection (CME) associated with a hefty flare from the group that popped off on the 24th. In basic English, that means there’s a possibility for auroras tonight across the northern U.S. and southern Canada. Because the spot group has a jumbled mix of north and south magnetic poles all within close proximity, chances are excellent that opposite poles will encounter one another and release powerful energy in the form of solar flares, increasing the chances for more northern lights in the coming week. And since the group is rotating closer to the center of the sun, any CMEs that occur are more likely to be directed toward Earth. ** UPDATE 9/26 at 11:30 p.m. — aurora is out over northern U.S. Seen briefly in Duluth, Minn. before clouds moved in.
Timing couldn’t be better. The last modest auroral display was mostly washed out by September’s full moon. This week the moon is now around new phase and won’t cause any problems. If you’re interested in observing the sun through your telescope, it’s essential to use a safe glass or optical mylar solar filter. These are available from a variety of vendors including Orion Telescopes. Wherever you purchase yours, make sure it’s the kind that fits over the front end of the telescope to ensure the safest filtration.
If you don’t own a telescope but would like to follow the progress of naked eye sunspots like group 1302, check out the “eclipse shades” from Rainbow Symphony. The glasses are made of cardboard with a safe, quality optical filter that gives a crisp image of the sun.
Sun watching is fun, easy and very rewarding as you follow the day-by-day march of spot groups across the disk. Old ones fade and new spots can pop up overnight.