Saturday, April 6, 2013

On sunspots

Do not do any of this without the right equipment.
Galileo likely did not go blind from his work with sunspots, but hey, it makes a good story.

We took a walk along the edge of the bay at sunset, as we do, and I stared at the sun, as I foolhardily do, and I saw the spot.

I took a picture of it, brought it home (an anachronism from when we "carried" pictures on film until we got the film developed), and blew it up.

Just to the lower left of center, you can see the smudge. It was more noticeable nekkid eye, but you can see it well enough above.

Not so long ago, that would be the end of the story. I could check again the next day, see the spot travel across the face of the sun (as they do), and ponder the imponderables of distances and spinning stars.

(I used to use Pop Tart packages as sun filters--they were made of Mylar, and you can see the sun through them. DO NOT DO THIS! I would follow clusters of spots for days.)

Here's the 21st century version of the same game:

From, credit SDO/HM posts daily photos of the sun--you can see "my" sunspot in the April 5 shot, in the same spot as mine.

Here's my question (and I am not asking rhetorically)--which feels more real to someone who grew up with these lightboxes that now define our vision, the sunlight that hit my retina, or the image by

Do children even need to be warned not to stare at the sun anymore?


cope said...

Answer: the sunlight that hits our retina after traveling through the least number of filters (be they clouds, CCDs, solar filters, websites or pin-hole projectors) is the most authentic.

I have been watching sunspots off and on since my late step-father and his 3" refractor telescope and solar filter entered my life in the 1950s.

I now have a Coronado PST and glass filter for my 6" reflector as well as a classroom set of mylar eclipse glasses for me and my students to view the Sun and its blemishes.

For reasons unknown to me, night-time observations of various phenomena here in Florida are too often obstructed by the clouds but solar observations are much more likely to be successful. I am much looking forward to taking my classes out to make daytime observations as the Sun (supposedly) begins its ramp-up to solar max.

doyle said...

Dear Cope,

We know this--I worry that those weaned on iPads might not.

My astronomy club peeked at sunspots a few months ago when things were pretty active. But they're considered oddballs by many, becaue they love the world.

I don't even know where to begin....

Jenny said...

A part of me wonders if those weaned on iPads might not be even more likely to find anything with a lack of filter more real. It would be such a change in their perception it would stand out, be quite noticeable. That's not really a good thing, but I don't think the wonder and fascination with nature disappears from children because of the sterile technology. They just spend less time with it.

(Of course, I'm basing this on a data set of two - my own girls.)

doyle said...

Dear Jenny,

Interesting point--your sample selection is a bit skewed since your kids live with two bright adults fascinated by the world, but you may be onto something here.

My students love the manual typewriter in class. I think the words on paper driven by their fingers feel different to them (though not sure they'd be as enamored if they ad to write papers using it).

OTOH, I often use a doc camera in class--I'll have in on some live critter(s) on my desk, and the kids are fascinated by the screen more than by the real things, but this might be because the images are so much larger.

My observations get better as I use my senses more. Not sure I could see what I see if I didn't grow up outside. Then again, the young'uns may well be seeing things I will never grasp.

Rachel said...

I can't totally answer this from the perspective you're looking for, but I'm 24, so I didn't get a smartphone until I was 23 and still have only limited experience with iPads but I did grow up with computers.

To me, absolutely the one seen for yourself is more real! but instinctively instead of the word real I probably would have used "badass". either way, definitely so much cooler than a perfect photo posted online. Maybe it is some of what you said, the nostalgia of people raised in the computer age for everything analog... I love typewriters and film photography and I just got a record player for Christmas.

I also have a weird fascination with fixing simple problems with toilets (involving the tank only... no gross stuff.) I just love that there's a machine that's still ubiquitous in today's world that is just so darn mechanically simple.

Barbara said...

Saw the spot on your pic right away without even reading first! Just wonderful. Your question is good. I love the technology because it allows me to see things that I REALLLLY want to see but that could physically hurt me. I know it is real when I see it in person, but somehow the technology enhances the experience. I could liken it to looking at the stars with just the naked eye, and think of how just by enhancing that view with a simple telescope of binoculars seems to bring them closer. Imagine if your question was asked after the telescope was invented.

Your little note is an even BETTER question. My children were warned, because they learned in school and we experimented with pin hole boxes and layers of photo negatives , but I think most don't. This generation's grandchildren will probably be asking themselves, can you believe when we had to wait so long for a picture from Mars to get here?

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

I admire your preference for apprehending reality directly through the senses, and sort of agree with it. But don't exclude the indirect. How is it less "real" to look through a telescope? to look at an image from a negative? one captured by ccd? I suppose it's emotionally less satisfying. (I remember being surprised and a little nonplused to hear that many astronomers don't even visit the telescopes they use--they just get the data feeds wherever.) In the same way, I can read your stories of basil plants incorporating the carbon atoms your students generated by thinking, but I couldn't truly comprehend it without symbolizing that process in a summary chemical equation. Symbolic thinking is critically important to any understanding that goes beyond the "wow" response. In fact, we need it even for the "wow." Science should begin with the senses, but we couldn't get far if it ended there.