On Sunday, August 5th a bunch of amateur astronomers from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada took their telescopes to the streets of Victoria, as part of our continuing public outreach. We had telescopes set up in four locations along the Inner Harbour of Victoria, on a day that the streets were swamped not just with summer tourists but a huge influx of residents of the region coming downtown for the yearly Symphony Splash concert.
I was set up next to the statue of Captain Cook, across from the Empress. It seemed appropriate to be introducing members of the public to solar astronomy, while next to the statue of the British captain tasked on his first historic voyage, to making crucial observations of the Transit of Venus. It was only a couple of months ago that I was out with my fellow amateur astronomers doing public outreach with our telescopes observing the rare Transit of Venus ourselves!
I set up with my Celestron NexStar 8SE for solar viewing. Without a solar sight it can be a bit tricky getting your telescope on target for an object you can’t look directly at. To find the Sun with my telescope I observed the shadow of the gap, where the mount grabs onto the Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, to find the sharpest shadow on the sidewalk. That would tell me when the telescope was in line with the Sun. Then I move the telescope vertically, slowly sweeping down, observing through my eyepiece for the Sun. Sometimes I get it on the first try and sometimes it takes a few times to find the Sun this way, but it works. The nice thing about the NexStar 8SE is that after I enter in my time, date, and place, once I align my telescope with the Sun it will track it all day. To avoid unnecessary lawsuits the telescope’s manufacturers make several warnings about looking at the Sun through your telescope and even require you go into the Utilities Menu on your telescope’s handset to allow the Sun as an observing target. You can also go into your Utilities Menu to change your tracking to Solar, since it varies in its movement across the sky from the Moon or the regular night sky you use your telescope to observe. Since using a 203.2mm (8″) telescope is a bit of overkill for solar astronomy, I used a Celestron Reducer/Corrector f/6.3 and an Omni 40mm plossl eyepiece (very low power) to ensure I could see the entire sphere of the Sun in the eyepiece view. Otherwise I’d be limited to one half or only three quarters of the Sun, when viewing it through a telescope this large. The most important thing for solar viewing is the filter and for public 0utreach you need to make extra certain it is secured against any incidental bumping of your telescope. I left my camera behind for the day, a rare occurrence, to limit the amount of gear I would have to carry back to my car at the end of the day.
It was a hot day on the sidewalk, with over two hundred people looking through my telescope alone and there were very few clouds in the sky. This close to the Solar Maximum, there were six sunspots visible on the surface of the Sun. Being able to easily change the angle of the diagonal allowed younger science enthusiasts to easily look through the eyepiece and people were generally good about not banging into the telescope. For most people, this was their first opportunity to observe the Sun through a telescope. We had our telescopes operating from noon until after 4pm, when it was time to pack up. The Symphony Splash already had a live band on stage, filling their harbour with their music. With the streets closed off for the event, I was very thankful for the help of both the Victoria Chapter President of the Royal Astronomical Society and our Society’s National Vice President, to carry my disassembled telescope and accessories several blocks to where my car was waiting patiently.