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Come and stare at the sun for awhile

May 14, 2018 04:52PM ● Published by Shaun Delliskave

The Salt Lake Astronomical Society hosts a sun party one Saturday a month at Winchester Park. (Photo Courtesy Salt Lake Astronomical Society)

By Shaun Delliskave|s.delliskave@mycityjournals.com

Seriously, come to Winchester Park and look directly at the blinding star through a telescope. Of course, not just any telescope, but the special ones offered by the Salt Lake Astronomical Society (SLAS) that filter harmful light. Starting June 2, one Saturday a month until October, SLAS members throw a “sun party” at Winchester Park (900 W. Winchester St.) and invite the public to learn more about our closest star.

The unusual sight of people pointing telescopes at the morning sky attracts plenty of curiosity from joggers along the Jordan River Parkway trail. All are invited to take a peek in the myriad of different scopes with just one caveat: don’t touch. Bumping the telescope can send the sun out of view for millions of miles or, worse, damage the expensive devices.

Siegfried Jachmann, one of the founders of SLAS, explained: “The sun is close enough to show incredible detail. It is the only star that we can magnify to show size. All other stars show only as points of light. But with the sun we have to reduce the extreme brilliance and the ultraviolet spectrum to avoid eye damage.”

Like many of the astronomers in SLAS, Jachmann has great exuberance for what people can experience through the eyepiece. “The brightness of the sun needs to be reduced by a factor of 100,000 to be viewed safely. Fortunately, that can be done rather simply by a neutral density filter. That type of filter will allow you to see sunspots. Often the sun has multiple sunspots larger that the Earth. Large sunspots will show detail in their structure. The dark central core, called the umbra, is distinct from the feathery outer structure known as the penumbra.” 

SLAS is a society of astronomy enthusiasts with a mission to promote the science of astronomy and its associated sciences and to encourage and coordinate activities with professional research. Some members are engaged in scientific pursuits and have been recognized for their discoveries. Others are interested in the science from a purely academic point of view.

According to Jachmann, “Many (members) are engaged in the philosophy of the late astronomer John Dobson, ‘bringing astronomy to the public.’”

Their sun parties and star parties are part of SLAS’s outreach program. In addition to the 37 public events in Salt Lake County or Tooele County, they also hold events at schools and national parks. “We try to accommodate as many schools as we reasonably can. We are an all-volunteer organization. We provide all of these events free of charge,” noted Jachmann.

For anyone interested in getting a telescope, SLAS also provides advice on purchasing them. Good but simple telescopes start at about $400. More advanced telescopes can easily run into many thousands of dollars. Jachmann recommended, “Get the interest first. Get the telescope second. Before spending any money on a telescope be sure there is a real interest. Here SLAS provides a great service. SLAS is a telescope resource. Anyone attending our star parties or sun parties can look through a variety of telescopes, from starter scopes to very expensive equipment. All are made available to look through. Each owner-operator is happy to discuss the virtues of his or her instrument and help a person decide on what telescope, if any, might be a good choice for them.”

For those who prefer looking at planets and galaxies, SLAS also hosts a star party every month at Wheeler Farm. For those who can’t get enough from the smaller telescopes, SLAS operates a large observatory at Stansbury Park in Tooele County. SLAS star and sun party schedules can be found online at http://slas.us.

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