Our star

Our star Very few people have a view of our star like this

Mr Michael Cripps and students.
Neatherd High School, Dereham, Norfolk.

Few people have really seen the Sun. Despite being the most obvious celestial object, its very brightness means that it is also the least easily observed. However, new technological developments have resulted in the production of relatively low cost filters that can reveal the Sun in all its glory. The Our Star* project brings experience of these amazing views and the scientific insights they can offer to students. At the same time the project aims to show students how scientists are pushing forward the frontiers of solar physics using telescope observations from both Earth and space.

Neatherd School in Norfolk used a Royal Society Partnership Grant to purchase solar observing equipment including two folded Keplerian telescopes and a hydrogen alpha filtered (HAF) telescope.

The Keplerians project an image of the Sun which allows the students to study sunspots. The HAF telescope uses a small slice of the visible region of the electromagnetic spectrum at a wavelength of 656.3 nanometres - the wavelength emitted by excited hydrogen atoms in the outer layer of the Sun. Without the filter, this wavelength is swamped by the intense light output from underlying layers.

The telescopes are used in lessons and for extracurricular work by students with a particular interest in astronomy. Another important part of the Our Star* project is a road show on the Sun and Solar System taken by teachers and students to the High School's feeder primary schools. This includes the loan of one of the Keplerian telescopes to the feeder school after the visit, to enable the children to continue their observations.

The Our Star* partner scientist for Neatherd is Helen Mason, who is the Assistant Director of Research at Cambridge University's Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP). Helen works with space-based solar observatories such as the European Space Agency's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). The near real-time nature of SOHO images on the internet helps in checking observations made with the school telescopes and charting the progress of features when they cannot be observed directly. The most spectacular example of this came at the end of October 2003 when the HAF telescope was being tested photographically. 'I started to run the tests just as the Sun produced one of the most powerful flares ever recorded', says Mike Cripps, Head of Science at Neatherd High School.

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