Standard warning for non-astronomers:
Never look at the sun with your naked eyes, and especially not through any optical instrument such as binoculars or telescope as this is likely to cause permanent blindness. The photos were taken through a specialist solar telescope which filters out almost all the sun’s light – never attempt to make a filter yourself.
Today there was enough sky, which was just as well, as I fiddled with the feeble tripod, trying to make minute adjustments with knobs which were only designed for coarse movements. Even using a 35mm eyepiece the sun soon roamed off and away, and with a short eyepiece I spent more time chasing the image than observing it. And it was hot. And things were biting me.
Of course if you could get a straight look, it was wonderful. The hydrogen alpha emission line is in a beautiful red part of the spectrum, and in the eyepiece it shines. In that moment when the focus was fine tuned, and the tripod stopped wobbling, the tiny image revealed a huge prominence, looking simultaneously as delicate as a veil and as monstrous as an apocalypse, rising and flying above the sun’s disc. Then the image moved off, and it was back to the twiddling and wobbling again.
And the pictures. Not astrophotography; that suggests something technical, planned, managed, processed, stacked. With my basic equipment, it’s a challenge even to get the camera focused and steady. Nor are these snaps. The images do not look like what I saw in the eyepiece, because the camera can’t render the perfect vermilion the eye translates; and to make any of the detail which the eye saw appear on the photographs, they have been tweaked using the primitive capabilities of iPhoto. So here they are: pictures, anyway, artificial in any sense of the word.
One tweaked to reveal a hint of the delicate complexity of the largest prominence:
and one fiddled with to show something of the active sunspot areas and even, I am amazed to see, some of the filaments crossing the disc:
If you want to see what the prominence ‘really’ looks like try this link, and then click on the image to see it breathtakingly full size:
But of course it doesn’t ‘really’ look like this. Even in hydrogen alpha.