Recording Observations

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The most obvious way to record observations is by photography. Even a simple domestic digital camera is capable of recording many of the sunspots. However, a lot of my "white light" solar viewing is undertaken under poor conditions, where any photograph could show more cloud than solar surface. As I have also found out with lunar and planetary photography, trying to take shots in gaps between fast moving clouds is tricky to say the least.

"White light" observation lends itself well to drawing and, not being particularly artistic, I find it easier to draw sunspots using computer-based drawing tools. See Figure 1.3 for an example. However, I have recently used a hydrogen alpha photograph as a blank for solar drawings and made sure that I include a larger portion of the solar disc than before.

I also like to record the days where there were no sunspots, so the result is a "blog"-style observation diary, which also includes nighttime observations. I place these online at, where you can access the latest observations plus as many older observations as I can fit into my Web site space. As well as including sunspot details, I also record the conditions under which I viewed them.

Whilst drawing is good for making good records of what I can see through binoculars or small telescopes, it starts to get difficult when using larger instruments, with more precision, such as my 127-mm Maksutov. More umbral/penumbral shadings are visible, as are faculae. Here, using digital photography is recommended, but there have been many good drawings made of the Moon and close-ups of lunar features by amateurs. Drawing certainly is not one of my skills, but I certainly would not discourage anyone from having a go.

One technique where there is a lot of room for experimentation is to manually enhance digital photographs with features that you spotted visually but did not record.

The "blog"-style descriptions are useful for hydrogen alpha viewing; you can use them to describe features that did not come out in the photographs. Using advanced astrophotographical techniques, such as those described by Nick Howes in Chapter 5, enables you to capture details that you cannot spot with the visual view. However, I recommend that you record the time of the photographs to the nearest 5 minutes, as hydrogen alpha detail can change quite rapidly.

On cloudy days, as well as catching up with image processing and trying new techniques, it is nice to view through your records.

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