The annular solar eclipse that swept through my region about a week and a half ago reminded me how thrilling solar astronomy can be. It also underscored how central the Sun is to our existence.
The Sun is the ultimate source of life and energy on Earth. Without the Sun, our world would be a frozen, lifeless wasteland.
Think of how often references to the Sun come up in our culture, references that we aren’t always fully conscious of. We wear sunglasses, we drink sun tea, we relax in sunrooms and on sunporches, and we enjoy our Sundays. Spending time outside, we get a suntan (or maybe a sunburn). A happy person has a sunny disposition. Sunflowers are a thing of beauty. We often orientate how we build our buildings to bring sunlight into them. In another age, we used sundials to tell time. The Sunbelt is a place where Americans migrated to as they moved away from the Rustbelt. Sunrises and sunsets are things of beauty to observe. And so on.
The Sun is at the center of our existence as we live it here on Earth. It’s apparent motion across the sky defines our daily rhythm. And we measure the passage of our lives by the number of times it takes for us to make a complete circle around the Sun. With it occupying such a central place in our lives, it’s natural for us to be drawn to the Sun.
Within the world of amateur astronomy, solar observing turns everything about our hobby on its head.
- It’s done during the day, not at night.
- One can enjoy spending time in warm, pleasant sunlight instead of shivering in the cold during the winter or fighting off mosquitos during the summer.
- Light pollution is not a problem. Indeed, no human-generated source of light can possibly match light from the Sun.
- The Sun is ever-changing. It never appears the same from one day to the next.
- It’s our opportunity to study a star up close.
I get a thrill from knowing that I can not only observe something as forbidding as the Sun but also that, by taking all necessary precautions, I can do so safely. Being able to observe something as powerful as the Sun instills a sense of awe and wonder that nighttime astronomy can’t match.
For much more, check out the various resources I have listed in my section on solar astronomy.