“I may not get a lot done today with the Sun putting on this sort of show”, announced amateur astrophotographer Paul Stewart from his upside down observatory in New Zealand yesterday. No kidding Paul, I can’t imagine anything else that you should be doing with your day other than recording this amazing animation of a massive prominence blasting off the surface of the Sun.
The animation you’re seeing attached to this article was captured by Paul on January 10th, 2013 and consists of 28 separate images of the Sun. But each of these images is actually a composite of about 1000 frames of video; only the best 30% of the frames were kept, and the rest were discarded. Paul stacked up each individual frame using AutoStakkert with Registax, and then manually lined them up in Photoshop. Finally, the whole thing was animated in Virtualdub.
Wondering about the gear Paul used? He was equipped with a Lunt Solar Systems 80mm H-Alpha Pressure Tuned Telescope (that’s it over on the right), using a DMK21AU618AS camera. “It was the first light with this camera, I think it has passed the test.” Indeed it has.
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Known as the Upside Down Astronomer, Paul recently got his new website operating, with amazing photographs, detailed info on his gear, and an ongoing blog of updates. Check out the detailed construction images of his green dome.
A single frame of the animation, showing the power of the prominence on the Sun.
So what are we looking at here; what are these solar prominences? With all its twisting swirling gas, the Sun is surrounded by powerful magnetic fields which are constantly shifting, combining and snapping apart. Hot plasma (charged hydrogen and helium atoms) in the Sun’s atmosphere flows along the tangled structure of the magnetic fields. When these magnetic fields shift and snap, a tremendous amount of energy is released, and the plasma is blasted off into space. When these prominences are directed towards Earth, the stream of particles interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field to produce the beautiful auroras we see in the Northern and Southern latitudes.