Every cloud: in praise of solar astronomy


"A clear blue sky also means we can view the nearest star to us."
Credit: iStock


Staring directly at the Sun can permanently damage your eyesight. Find out how to observe the Sun safely with our guide here.


As I sat and pondered what to write this month, I was looking out the window and enjoying the wonderful daytime blue skies in the lead up to Easter.

Then as the Sun set, the clouds rolled in!

I live on the eastern side of the country and yes, the western side does have the Atlantic storms that sweep in from time to time, but over where I am we often get ‘sea fret’ roll in.

It occurs when warm air passes over the cold North Sea and drifts along the coast and moves inland; unfortunately for me and many others, down the eastern coast.

So once again that’s a night's testing or personal observations/imaging gone for yet another evening.

We’re all familiar with it: great by day, cloudy by night (there’s a song in that surely?)

But rather than think of it as a disaster, it does have a silver lining. I get some sleep at the proper time!

There is another astronomical option that has become even more popular in the last few years.

A clear blue sky also means we can view the nearest star to us. Yes, we can do astronomy in the daytime, by carefully and safely viewing the Sun.

What with white light filters and solar wedges, a range of specialised wavelength telescopes and filters looking at the hydrogen-alpha Sun and indeed, magnesium, calcium, sodium and whatever is the next wavelength that becomes available.

Our Sun is an excuse to do astronomy when we do get those nice days with blue skies, as long as you have spare time off work of course. 

Our reviews in BBC Sky at Night Magazine often cover such solar scopes and filters, and it is certainly becoming both more affordable and easier to get your hands on them.

Perhaps these cloudy nights are nature's way of getting us astronomers out into the sunshine, sating our need for vitamin D and at the same time getting us to do some interesting solar observations as well as getting a tan.

Just remember not to get sunburnt in the process!

The latest issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine is out now, and this month Prof Lucie Green looks at the science of the solar cycle, and we reveal how to safely observe the Sun. So be sure to get your hands on a copy!


The May issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine is on sale 18 April.



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