CAUTION: Never look at the Sun, either directly or through a telescope or binocular, without a professionally made protective solar filter installed that completely covers the front of the instrument, or permanent eye damage could result. When using a truss tube telescope to view the Sun, both a properly fitting solar filter and light shroud are required.
Image: Solar flares, as seen through Orion 12.13"
Glass Solar Filter, and Orion SkyQuest XT10i
Photographer: Walt S. of Parker, CO.
If you didn't jump on the bandwagon during the Venus transit last June and buy a solar filter, then now is a good time to reconsider. Venus won't be traveling across the sun again until the year 2117, but the Sun happens to be putting on its own show. And while viewing the Sun in H-Alpha is an incredible experience, there is nothing more pleasing than following the march of the sunspots with a white light solar filter.
I began my personal solar journey some 15 years ago. At the time, astronomy wasn't a very popular hobby among my peers, and solar observing was rare. As a matter of fact, very few companies sold solar filters and those that did were quite expensive. However, I was determined to view a partial solar eclipse and I didn't want to do it with #12 welder's glass taped to a pair of binoculars, which was my other option. So, I set out to afford a full aperture glass solar filter for my 114mm reflector telescope. I took odd jobs scrubbing floors and detailing cars to make the money and it wasn't long until I placed my order with Orion.
How I admired that filter the day it arrived! And how many days I admired the clouds until I could use it. (That phenomenon of cloudy weather that always seems to follow the receipt of newly arrived and much anticipated astronomy equipment.) When the time came, I turned the telescope toward the Sun, watching the ground behind me as the shadows aligned. When the orange fuzzy came into eyepiece view, I locked the mount into place and focused.
I was blown away. Nothing could have prepared me for the deep, black, oily-looking spots edged by pepper. I knew absolutely nothing about solar observing, but I knew at that moment I was going to learn!
Each clear day I returned until I understood how sunspots rotated. Each trip into town became a trip to the library (pre-internet days, folks) to acquire books to tell me what I was seeing. I reveled in the solar eclipse and proudly began sketching sunspot activity. Eventually, pencil and paper gave way to a camcorder and parfocal imaging, then on to an eyepiece camera... and the years passed happily.
Even though my original Orion full aperture glass solar filter is almost old enough to drive, it is still in perfect condition and still serving me to this day. It provides very eye-pleasing orange colored images and when the telescope I am using hits thermal equilibrium, it provides sharp, study-worthy views of penumbral and umbral activity, the Wilson Effect, magnetic bridges and some granulation. I've even seen a white light solar flare! Not bad for a piece of equipment which was once a serious investment, but is now quite affordable.
Of course, I never wanted the solar adventures to stop. I have also added the inexpensive Baader AstroSolar? Film versions and even more recently added the black polymer.
Binoculars? I even have a set of solar filters for my good binoculars, too. Getting older means you're a lot less inclined to drag out a telescope every sunny day, but you'd be surprised at how often you'll look at the Sun if it means nothing more than slipping the filters on the lenses and stepping outside!
Yes, the Orion glass solar filter and I have been friends for many years. I never would have dreamed on the day that I first opened the box that I would eventually be sharing the view with my grandchildren. It has been one very quality product and deserving of a summer "What's Hot" label!
Tell us about your first time viewing the Sun through solar filters in the comments!
Tammy Plotner is a professional astronomy author, President Emeritus of Warren Rupp Observatory and retired Astronomical League Executive Secretary. She's received a vast number of astronomy achievement and observing awards, including the Great Lakes Astronomy Achievement Award, RG Wright Service Award and the first woman astronomer to achieve Comet Hunter's Gold Status.