Desert Cove Elementary Solar Viewing

On March 15, at the request of Diana Flores, Science Teacher, DFAC members Dan Heim and Roger Serrato traveled to the Desert Cove Elementary School in Phoenix for a demonstration of solar viewing. The target audience was a group of gifted students from grades 3-5. Dan brought his 5" Takahashi with a hydrogen alpha filter, and Roger his 8" Celestron with a neutral density mylar filter. The Sun cooperated, showing both sunspots and prominences. The first image shows Dan giving his mandatory "don't try this at home with daddy's binoculars" safety lecture. What always grabs their attention is the fact that, without these special filters, you could roast a marshmallow where you position your eye.

Roger followed with an explanation of how large the Sun is, using a basketball as a visual aid.

Here Dan and Roger collaborate using a small marble to represent the size of Earth relative to the Sun.

Having explained what they were about to see, which is necessary for a successful educational experience, we moved on to the fun part ... seeing sunspots and solar flares. Here Dan is shielding a students eyes from sunlight to improve the contrast of the view. Of interest is the fact that young eyes are more sensitive to the far-red light of hydrogen alpha, and several students spotted additional solar flares that Dan had missed.

The sunspots, by comparison, are much higher contrast features. Still, Roger provides some overhead shading to improve the view as a line of eager students queue up.

The students asked some great questions, and took notes during our introductory talks. Here's a page from one of those notebooks.

Diana Flores wrote the following on her classroom blog page: Wonderful volunteers from the Desert Foothills Astronomy Club came to Desert Cove to share their telescopes with the students in the self-contained gifted program. Through the use of special filters, we were able to see sunspots and solar prominences on the Sun! A big thank you to Dan and Roger for sharing their time and telescopes with us!

She also sent us a personal card, thanking us again, and writing: Thank you for coming to Desert Cove to share your time and telescopes with my students. I appreciate that you provided an opportunity for learning that they otherwise would not have had.

In addition, the students wrote personal thank you letters which were mailed to us later. To give some appreciation for why we take the time to do these volunteer events, we'd like to share the text of some of those letters. Names have been removed for privacy, and needed explanatory notes include in [square brackets]. We hope you enjoy these as much as we did. Some are cute or unintentionally amusing, some amazingly eloquent (even for gifted students), but all were sincere ... and that's one of the reasons we keep doing these events.

1. Thank you for showing us the telescopes. It was fun, although I couldn’t see much, but it was interesting. Did you get the idea about trying to show us the Sun? Where did you buy the lenses?

2. Thank you for letting us use your telescopes. It was a unique experience seeing the solar flares and sunspots. Thank you very much!

3. Thank you for coming out and showing us the telescopes. I’m sure they are valuable to you and it was hard to watch us use them. That is why I am in so much gratitude to you for letting us use them. The Sun was amazing to look at with both of them. And to Roger, the sunspots were so cool because sometimes you could see them move. And to Dan, the solar flares were absolutely amazing. And thank you for telling me not to look at the Sun because I’m sure if I did one more time I would have been blind. You are very kind.

4. Thank you for your time. I learned that the sunspots are larger than the Earth. They can fit 100 Earths! I thought they were little like a regular dot.

5. Thank you for sharing your telescopes with us. The solar flares looked cool. I was surprised nothing shot out of the Sun. To me, the sunspots were not on the Sun. All I could see was an orange ball. The solar flares looked like an orange ball with tiny black things [these were atmospheric refraction effects] running all over the place.

6. Thank you for all the cool telescopes. I liked the small one the best. The thing is, I could not see anything in either telescope.

7. [this was addressed “Dear Scientists” instead of the usual “Dear Dan & Roger”] Thank you. You are very nice. I’m sorry that you had to spend so much money for us, but I so much thank you I couldn’t believe it. [we told them how much our scopes cost] Did you know I knew from the first place that the Sun is very small in space? But it was really fun.

8. Thank you both so much for bringing the telescopes to our school. The Sun looked exquisite through the telescopes. I didn’t see very many sunspots but I did see a lot of solar prominences. There were a lot of flares on the right side of the Sun. I would also like to apologize for my class’s behavior. [they were fine, but occasionally rowdy like any young students] Thank you again.

9. Thanks for coming to our school and letting us look at the Sun. It was really amazing and fascinating. I saw a lot of sunspots. If you guys can come back, please do … it was enjoyable. I never thought the Sun was actually a rainbow, that’s phenomenal. [we also showed the sunlight through a spectrometer] You guys are really funny and amiable. You are truly amazing.

10. The Sun was hot that day because it looked cooler than lava. That day the Sun was boiling. [again, atmospheric refraction effects] The telescopes were made exquisitely. Sorry that me and my class were obnoxious and loud. [loud yes, obnoxious no] I was very pensive of you to take your time to go to our school and teach us about it.

11. Thank you for showing us the Sun through your high powered telescopes and filters. The solar flares were very interesting and the sunspots really showed on the yellow filter. Sorry me and my class were so obnoxious and rude. [really, they weren’t]

12. Thank you for showing us the Sun through your telescopes. It was breathtaking seeing the solar flares in the red filter. [H-alpha] I’m very grateful for you to travel all the way out to our school. My favorite part was looking through the red filter. In class, we learned all about the Sun. One thing we learned is that the Sun is 4.5 billion years old. Another thing we learned is that the Sun is 870,000 miles in diameter. [close enough]