On May 9, 2016, over the course of seven and a half hours beginning at 7:12 a.m. EDT (11:12 UTC) Mercury passed across the disk of the Sun, appearing to observers on Earth as a small dark dot in front of the massive brilliance of our home star. While the event wasn’t visible to the naked eye (the Sun is just too bright and Mercury just too small) those with filtered telescopes and solar projection devices (like what I had set up) were able to see Mercury silhouetted against the Sun, and that most certainly included solar photography master Alan Friedman who captured the amazing image above from his home in Buffalo, NY.
Our Sun may be made up of 98% hydrogen and helium but the remaining two percent comprises many other elements, detectable by their unique absorption lines within the gamut of white light we receive on Earth. One of those elements is calcium, which exists in ionized form in relatively tiny amounts in the Sun’s chromosphere – but still enough to allow images to be made using special filters aligned to the wavelength of its absorption line. And this is precisely what photographer Alan Friedman did on April 12, 2015 when he captured the image above!
I’ve featured many of Alan Friedman’s amazing photos of the Sun here on Lights in the Dark, starting from the very first one I came across via the venerable Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) in November 2009. I’ve even featured Alan’s work in several articles I’ve written for National Geographic News, Discovery News, and Universe Today. Alan runs an independent greeting card print shop in Buffalo, NY, and in his spare time likes to collect vintage hats, travel, do some astrophotography, and oh yeah, also take the most un-freakin’-believable photos of our home star in hydrogen alpha light from his own backyard.
(I hope you didn’t miss that part about the Sun.)
Every year the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England holds a contest for best astrophotography, and this year they visited three of the entrants to get the stories behind their photos. While it looks like Alan didn’t win a grand prize this year (but he did take second) the video above shows how — and why — he makes his photos.
“The coolest thing about the Sun for me as the subject for photography is it’s never the same two days in a row. And it’s the only star we can see detail on, at least with current technology.”
– Alan Friedman
It’s quite a beautiful video, and makes you feel like you’re a guest at Alan’s home looking up through his telescope along with him and his family.
Currently Alan’s sun photography is on display at the Orange County Great Park Gallery in Irvine, CA Thursdays through Sundays from Sept. 15 to Dec. 1. If you’re in the area, don’t miss the chance to check it out. Admission is free.
Video credit: Royal Observatory Greenwich/ Lonelyleap
An enormous tree-shaped prominence spreads its “branches” tens of thousands of miles above the Sun’s photosphere in this image, a section of a photo acquired in hydrogen alpha (Ha) by Alan Friedman last week from his backyard in Buffalo, NY. Writes Alan on his blog, “gotta love a sunny day in November!”
Check out the full image — along with an idea of just how big this “tree” actually is — here.