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What Are Solar Telescopes?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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Solar telescopes are astronomy tools used for making solar observations. The sun presents a challenging target, because unlike other objects in the sky, it emits a great deal of light. With solar observations, astronomers need to be able to observe phenomena on the sun without experiencing eye damage or creating images that appear washed out because of the excess of light. Specialized telescopes are necessary for making detailed observations of the sun.

The solar telescope uses a series of filters to control the light that enters the device. It may have a wide aperture but doesn't require arrays of complex mirrors to focus and concentrate light. Instead, the goal is on magnification, to allow the observer to see the surface of the sun in detail. Using various filters, it is possible to zero in on light in specific bands of the spectrum to look for particular phenomena of interest.

Many solar telescopes are designed to be fixed in place, because they have complex systems to control internal temperature and vibration. These systems could be damaged by moving the telescope, and thus the device needs to be kept stationary. The telescope may also be surrounded with a support structure that contributes temperature and atmospheric controls to increase the quality of observations. Computer targeting systems can be used to aim and focus solar telescopes, or observers can manually position them.

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Amateur and professional solar telescopes are available through a number of scientific suppliers. Amateur versions tend to have lower magnifying power and may not offer the same level of resolution as a professional telescope. Some professional models used in research are custom built for specific observatories, and may be quite costly because they include specialized components and control systems. It is also possible to purchase filters and supplies to use in solar observations with a conventional telescope, although extreme caution is necessary to limit eye damage.

A telescope designed for solar observations may have some safety features to protect the eyes of the observers. These can include reflecting tools and filters so people never look directly into the sun, even when aiming and focusing the device. It is important to follow all listed precautions on a solar telescope, as using the device improperly could expose people to the risk of eye injury. People with an interest in solar phenomena can find prints of images from solar telescopes, including graphic renditions of activities that occur outside the visual spectrum.

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