Solar Observing Stuff

Est. Sept 2012

Primary Instruments: Coronado SolarMax II 60 / BF10; Coronado P.S.T.

Secondary Instruments: AstroView 120ST Refractor; Sky View Pro 120EQ Refractor; Orion Deep Space Explorer 6" Reflector
Meade LX90 10" ACF Telescope; Orion White Light Filters

I really started getting interested in Solar Astronomy during the year leading up to the Transit of Venus in June 2012. I'd purchased two glass white light solar filters from Orion Telescopes in late June 2011. One was for my Orion 6" Dob and the other for my Orion 120mm refractors. I was content with the occasional views through them. You can read my review of the filter here

When I observed the Annular Solar Eclipse in May 2012 I had my Orion 120ST refractor set up on my Sky View Pro equatorial mount. I photographed the event with my Canon 60D at prime focus with the white light solar filter on the scope. I got some pretty good footage with this modest set up. Thanks to another astronomer who was present at the viewing site we chose, I was treated to my first ever view of our sun in Hydrogen Alpha light. The fellow had brought along his Coronado P.S.T. (Personal Solar Telescope). I was quite intrigued by the bright red view of our sun in this very narrow bandwith of light. Several small prominences and a filament were clearly visible. The Hydrogen Alpha seed had been planted.

Moe viewing sun in Ha for first time
May 20, 2012 Annular Eclipse

PePere viewing sun in Ha

I didn't immediately order a Hydrogen Alpha scope, nor did I have the opportunity to view the Transit of Venus in June 2012 through a Hydrogen Alpha scope. I did set up for it and observed as much of the transit as I could from beginning through sunset. For me in Arizona, that was until about 7:32pm when the silhouette of Venus disappeared behind a very distant mountain. The transit was a great event that I was able to share with numerous folks from family, co-workers, friends and passersby.

June 2012 Transit of Venus
Surprise, Arizona

Martin, Carissa and my Dad

Carissa checking it out

Moe and the transit

Carissa, Moe, Brandon checking it out

Jonathan taking a break early on

Eyepeice Projection

It wasn't until mid-August that I finally started thinking about purchasing a solar telescope. I started reading all I could online about the Coronado products while pretty much missing the Lunt offerings altogether. In case you didn't know, the folks at Lunt are the same folks who designed the early Coronado line. At some point, they sold off Coronado to Meade and went into the solar telescope business on their own.

At first, I was excited to order a Coronado MaxScope II 60mm / BF10 combination. When it became apparent the scope wasn't going to immediately ship I became a little let down and called the company and cancelled the order. It only took a little more research to realize that most of the Coronado line isn't currently immediately available. Maybe they had a serious run during preparations for the Tranist a couple of months ago. Maybe they always have a long lead time for orders. Who knows, but it has become apparent to me that the current state of narrowband Solar Observing, as popular as it is becoming, is still a relatively expensive endeavour. Most of the offerings out there seem to be backordered.

So, I decided to look for a Coronado P.S.T. There were several places these were readily available and in stock. I also looked online for auction activity. I found a used P.S.T. and started bidding on it. It started out well below $400 but during the course of the auction it steadily increased well past my maximum bid of $425. Another option I was exploring was CraigsList. I found what seemed like a decent deal on a double-stacked SolarMax II 60mm in New Mexico. I emailed the seller but didn't hear anything back. A few days later I sent another email and when I got the reply he indicated he'd just sold the telescope. Ah well...too bad. At $2000 it would have been an excellent deal for the double-stacked unit.

So in the end, I ordered a P.S.T. from B&H Photo in New York. It arrived just a few days after I placed the order. But get this. Depsite all my earlier searchings and not being able to find a Coronado 60mm scope anywhere, while I was waiting for the P.S.T. to arrive I located a new 60mm on the West Coast. It was the basic single-stacked unit with a BF-5 but I ordered it up anyway. Ouch. Two solar scopes on the way...what to do. Well, in the end both arrived safe and sound and both are part of my current lineup. I used the P.S.T. a couple times but once the 60mm arrived it quickly replaced the P.S.T. for primary viewing. I'm hoping to be able to use the P.S.T. at public events as a second solar Hydrogen Alpha scope.

First light with the Coronado P.S.T.
Aug 29, 2012

2nd A-focal Cellphone photo
Some small proms visible

Being very new to solar imaging I have no dedicated astro cameras. I've been photographing terrestrial stuff with digital SLRs since 2003, and with film SLRs since 1978. In mid-2010 when I found Joe Orman's Naked Eye 100 List I expanded my photography to some night time subjects.

There are many superb astro photographers out there sharing their work via the Internet. The caliber of solar images being produces by these dedicated men and women is astonishing. As with any endeavour you need the right tools for the job. The most successful receipe for advanced solar imaging in Hydrogen Alpha would include: a dedicated H-Alpha telescope, a CCD camera, a computer hooked up to the CCD camera, an equatorial tracking mount, and the time to make the images and post-process them.

In my case, I'm starting to image the sun "on the cheap". Ok, so I've got a proper scope. I have a DSLR: a Canon 60D. I also have an equatorial tracking mount - my Orion Sky View Pro telescope tripod. A photo tripod would work, but the weight of the camera/telescope combination makes the "imaging rig" quite susceptible to image jiggle, and the tripod must be continuously adjusted to keep the solar image in frame. Therefore, the Sky View Pro is my current choice for solar imaging. At the moment it is a fairly modest arrangement, but I'm happy to be able to observe in Hydrogen Alpha and do some photography as well.

While waiting for delivery of the scope(s) I read many reviews of them. One feature that concerned me was the lackluster focusing setup on the SolarMax II. After I took delivery I realized what the fuss was about. Due to the constuction method of the scope, the weight of a DSLR attached to the star diagonal (blocking filter) causes the light path to be less than perfect. To solve this problem I fabricated a jig that helps maintain the 90-degree angle between the camera and telescope. I used oak boards from a Lowe's for primary construction and some 1/4" light plywood for the side gussets and forward scope guides. Some small hardware bits keep it all together. I can mount the whole rig to a standard photo tripod or, more appropriately, I attach an oak dove-tail piece to the bottom and attach the rig to the equatorial head on the telescope tripod. The camera is held in place with a 1/4-20 eyebolt and the telescope is free to slide forward and aft as focusing is achieved. So far, the two nylon screws on the telescope focuser seem to be able to keep the moderate weight of the scope in place and maintain focus. It is not an ideal solution but it works for me.

Side View

Front View

Rear View

Bottom View w/ dovetail installed

Bottom View w/o tripod adapter installed

Bottom View w/ tripod adapter installed

Some of my first images through the scope(s) were with my smartphone using simple eyepiece projection. The results are less than stellar (pardon the pun) but some prominence detail can be seen when you get the optical path lined up. The 5mm blocking filter that came with my SolarMax II made it fairly difficult to keep a nicely centered solar image while using the photo tripod. It quickly became apparent that I'd probably have to bite the bullet and order a 10mm blocking cheap proposition. I placed the order with Meade and my 10mm BF-10 shipped within a couple of days from OPT in Southern California.

Eyepiece Projection photo with smartphone



First light with the Coronado SolarMax II 60mm
Aug 30, 2012

Temporary sun blocker
Aug 30, 2012

Temporary sun blocker
Aug 30, 2012

Initial Eyepiece Projection
DSLR Imaging Setup
Sep 1, 2012
(Note tube for SolRanger alignment)

DSLR Imaging Setup Evolution
Sep 18, 2012

Full-Disc Cemax Barlow Imaging
Sep 18, 2012

The P.S.T. and SolarMax II 60mm in their stock configuration will NOT achieve prime focus with a must introduce another lens element into the optical path. After the initial smartphone experiments, I tried eyepiece projection (using an Orion Universal Camera Adapter) with moderate success. Thankfully, I found a webpage that showed a setup with a Coronado Cemax 2x Barlow in the optical path. Seemed like a reasonable option so I found an online source Agena AstroProducts and ordered one. The Barlow arrived a few days later and I put it to use. The Cemax Barlow placed the camera at a lower position than the eyepiece holder, so I had to drill a new hole for the 1/4-20 eyebolt. First light with the new imaging setup validated my efforts. I have not tried the original BF-5 with the Cemax 2x Barlow, but the BF-10 does provide a larger "window" in which to view the solar disc. And as expected from reviews I was reading, there is a moderate amount of extraneous red light around the solar disc but I do not find it objectional. The initial images obtained definitely show promise with what can be obtained with a DSLR.




Yahoo Group

Also, while waiting for the scopes to arrive I joined a Yahoo! group dedicated to Coronado SolarMax scopes. One of the members, Jim Lafferty, is quite the solar imager. Jim lives over in Redlands, California and has been very receptive of my questions. His webpage, Realm of the Sun, is quite impressive. In addition to solar imaging, Jim is also an accomplished deep-sky astro-imager. I sent Jim one of my DSLR images to play with and below are the results he came back with. Nice prominence detail but my solar disc is pretty crappy. Mind you, Jim had ONE .jpg image to work with here. I was just pleased to see one of my photographs vaguely resemble what he (and others) churn out on a regular basis. If you check out the list of his imaging equipment you'll see Jim is pretty much sitting at the top of the pyramid when it comes to H-Alpha telescopes. I think it's almost time for me to step up to a DMK41 monochrome CCD camera like what Jim uses. Once I take that step, astro-imaging takes on a whole new flavor with the need to have a computer at your side while imaging. In broad daylight, that creates a whole new subset of issues to contend with.

Sun Blocker

To help block the sun while observing and imaging, I fabricated a 20" x 30" (508cm x 762cm) "sun blocker" from foamcore posterboard. The front side is white, to help deflect the sunlight and the rear is black, to help maintain a reasonably dark viewing area. I cut a hole in the middle and fabricated a tube to slide over the front element of the SolarMax II. I also had to incorporate a light tube for sunlight to reach the SolRanger sun locator.

The foamcore posterboards are not glued to each other...there is a narrow space between them. I have access to some 1-inch diameter stiff cardboard tubes so I used those to build a frame of sorts that the foamcore is glued to. Below are some photos of the "sun blocker" during construction and while in use. The 20" x 30" size is still not quite large enough to sufficiently block the sun during some of my recent imaging periods so I may look into expanding the width and height with another piece of foamcore.

I also use a simple tri-fold cardboard sun blocker to shield my legs during early morning and late afternoon observing and imaging. I wear shorts pretty much year-round in Arizona and I'd like to keep as much sunlight off the legs as possible. Also, it is still pretty warm here in Arizona as I write this in mid-September 2012, so this lower sun blocker is nice to have.

Inside of foamcore Sun Blocker
3 Sep 2012

Sun Blocker installed on scope
3 Sep 2012

Tri-Fold Low Sun Blocker
18 Sep 2012

PST and SolarMax II 60mm set up
20 Sep 2012

When I ordered the SolarMax II 60mm I also ordered the 12mm Cemax eyepiece. The 25mm Cemax is included with the scope. I don't think I'm going to bother purchasing the Cemax 18mm as I usually use the 12mm by itself or with the 2x Cemax Barlow. I don't really see the need for the 18mm focal length at this point. I have tried my Orion 6mm Edge-On Planetary eyepiece but seeing conditions were not that great and the image was not very good. I realize solar observations are often best carried out with the more simple eyepiece designs, e.g. Kellner, etc, so maybe the complexity of the 6mm Edge-On contributed to the the degraded view.

On Sept 16th 2012 I ordered the book "Observing the Sun with Coronado(TM) Telescopes" by Philip Pugh. It was published in 2007 so it pre-dates the current line of Coronado SolarMax II telescopes. However, I'm a book worm so it should be reasonably interesting reading. It is scheduled to be delivered today, Sept 17th 2012.

As expected, FedEx delivered a package containing two books of them being the Philip Pugh book. Although dated by 6 years now (the author references borrowing a PST CaK scope in Sept 2006 during the writing of the book), this text is an interesting reference for H-Alpha and Calcium-K observing and imaging. As convenient as it is to do research via the Internet, having a good, physical book at hand still has much value. I have never observed in Calcium-K light so the photos in the book, and the Calcium-K discussion are particularly interesting. It is too bad the dedicated line of Calcium-K scopes is no longer readily available.

Viewing the sun in H-Alpha has quickly become one of my favorite pasttimes. I have been able to share the experience with some of my co-workers and most of them seem duly impressed. Most first-time observers react with little emotion the first time they view the bright red disk of the sun. Once I explain they may be able to detect little prominences around the perimeter of the sun, I usually get a positive response. Then I suggest they try to relax their eye and examine the surface of the sun, explaining that an "orange peel" effect may be detectable, as well as a black line or two (filaments). Most of the time, folks seem genuinely impressed with their first view of the chromosphere in Hydrogen Alpha light.

My current, rather modest imaging setup produces inconsistent, mixed results, with a tendency towards better than worse. I find it rather difficult to achieve sharp focus using the stock helical focuser. With the "sun blocker" in place I can easily see the disk of the sun when using my "live view" mode on my Canon 60D. The camera has the ability to zoom into the image at 5x and 10x but I still find it difficult to find a good focus.

29 Sep 12

29 September 2012 and my daughter Carissa gets to view the sun in HA for her second time. A couple of sunspots were easily visible as was a quite large "C" shaped filament. There were also some nice proms around the circumference. When I got home I set up the rig for some photography and captured a few photos in HA. I also set up my new Celestron 127 Mak on my Orion Sky View Pro mount and snapped a few white light photos of the sun through my Orion 5.81" diameter glass solar filter. The image scale through the 127 Mak doesn't allow for full-disc prime focus photography...therefore the image seen below is cropped.

Carissa viewing the sun in HA
29 Sep 2012

Carissa viewing the sun in HA
29 Sep 2012

Greyscale view of what we saw
an hour or so earlier
29 Sep 2012

Unaltered view of what we saw
an hour or so earlier
29 Sep 2012

White light view of what we saw
an hour or so earlier
29 Sep 2012

Map or Solar Active Regions
29 Sep 2012

Sun two hours earlier than we saw it
29 Sep 2012

17 Oct 12

Last Saturday I ordered a Imaging Specialists DMK21 monochrome camera from Starizona in Tucson, Arizona. It arrived Monday but I couldn't pick it up until Tuesday (yesterday). I unpacked it and with some clear blue skies waiting outside I set up the SolarMax. I loaded the camera software on the laptop and proceeded outside. It was a real chore trying to see the laptop screen so I fashioned a light blocker of sorts out of some foamcore board. That along with a lightweight blanket draped over myself and the laptop provided enough shade to operate the laptop and get a couple of .avi video files recorded with the DMK21. I don't have any photos of the setup yet but below are a couple of images I sent to Jim Lafferty for assistance with processing.

The CCD chip in the camera is only 640x480 so the image scale is pretty small. And as you can see below, the chip will not enable a full-disc view of the sun (or moon for that matter).

Still, it is my first go with CCD imaging and I hope to be able to continue with the experience. The moon is just past "new" at the moment so I'll have to wait a few days until it is high enough in the dark sky to try some images. I did manage to image Jupiter early this morning and while the image scale is quite small, the results are promising.

Greyscale image
16 Oct 2012
(processed by Jim Lafferty)

Colorized image
16 Oct 2012
(processed by Jim Lafferty)

Enlarged Colorized image
16 Oct 2012
(processed by Jim Lafferty)

11 Nov 12

Sunday November 11th my dad and I attended an astronomy event in Tucson at the Convention Center. Outside the exhibit hall were a number of telescopes set up for solar observations in three wavelengths of light: white, Hydrogen Alpha, and Calcium K. Most, if not all, of the scopes were Lunt solar scopes and they were impressive. The showstopper was a 9-inch diameter refractor set up for viewing in Hydrogen Alpha. We also had our first view in Calcium K through a 102ED refractor...very cool. I had no problem seeing the sun in this wavelength and once I focused it I easily saw a lot of surface detail and the prominent sunspots that were present. Below are some images.

Dad viewing Hydrogen Alpha
through the 9" Lunt.

Dad viewing Calcium K sun
through the 4" Lunt.

Some of the scopes open
for solar viewing.

Some of the scopes open
for solar viewing.

Stephen Ramsden and Moe.

Dad and I had a good time wandering through the exhibit and vendor halls. So many scopes on display it was like being in a toy store...a very expensive toy store. I ended up purchasing a "double stack" unit for my SolarMax II from Woodland Hills Camera, as well as a couple other small items inluding a nice green laser pointer for a mere $25...1/3 of the retail price.

The actual Double Stack unit I purchased
was removed from a display 60mm SolarMax II.

Coronado 60mm and 90mm "double stacked"
Hydrogen Alpha scopes.

Coronado 90mm "double stacked"
Hydrogen Alpha scope.

Coronado 90mm "double stacked"
Hydrogen Alpha scope.

Coronado 60mm and 90mm "double stacked"
Hydrogen Alpha scopes.

Various Coronado products.

Another Coronado 90mm on display.

Date / Time Object
Cat #(s) Apparent
Inst. / Power Naked Eye? Binos? Notes Notes 2
29 Aug 12 / 14:10 MST
P.S.T. First Light
Sun Star . . Coronado P.S.T. / Various (20mm, 9mm, + 2x Barlow No No VERY cool seeing Sol in Hydrogen Alpha light Several nice proms on SE edge; couple nice filaments
30 Aug 12 / 10:15 MST
SolarMax II 60 First Light
Sun Star . . Coronado SolarMax II 60 / Various (25mm, 12mm, + 2x Barlow No No Better resolution than P.S.T.
though both are keepers!
Several nice proms; couple nice filaments
02 Sep 12 / 15:00 MST
SolarMax II 60
Sun Star
. . Coronado SolarMax II 60 / Various (25mm, 12mm, + 2x Barlow No No Carissa & Brandon see our sun in Ha for first time. Several nice proms around edge; couple nice filaments
09 Sep 12 / 11:00 MST
SolarMax II 60
Sun Star
. . Coronado SolarMax II 60 / Various (25mm, 12mm, + 2x Cemex Barlow No No Tried some imaging with the Cemex Barlow Several nice proms around edge; couple nice filaments
16 Sep 12 / 14:00 MST
SolarMax II 60
DMK21 Mono Camera
Sun Star
. . Coronado SolarMax II 60 No No DMK21 Mono camera first light Results are promising
12 Nov 12 / 12:15 MST
SolarMax II 60
Double Stack Unit
Sun Star
. . Coronado SolarMax II 60 / 12mm, + 2x Cemex Barlow No No Double Stack unit first light Significant improvement over stock 60mm view

Solar Links

Photo Collections (Some with tutorials)
Jim Lafferty
Shogun's Sky
Stephen W. Ramsden
Stephen W.
Alexandra's Photostream
Alexandra's Calcium K Photos
Steve Irvine
Kepple Henge
Hydrogen Alpha
Solar Explorer
The Solar Explorer
IC Stars
Solar Images
Jerry Lodriguss
Solar Images
Wes Higgins
Lunar Photography

Imaging / Image Processing
The Online Photographer
Solar Photos with a PST
Imaging Deep Sky
Solar Full Disk Processing
All About Astro
H-Alpha Imaging Tips
Sky and Telescope
Capture the Sun with your PST
The Online Photographer
Solar Photos with a PST
H-a Solar Imaging

Observing / Education
Solar Terrestrial Dispatch
Understanding the Sun
Astro Nut
Solar Primer
Prairie Astronomy
H-Alpha Observing

Mike Weasner's
Cassiopeia Observatory
Dave's P.S.T. Blog
Dave's P.S.T.
The Imaging Source
H-Alpha from Italy
RK Blog
Lunt 35mm Imaging
Stargazers Lounge
Imaging Tutorial
Steven Wainwright
A Solar Blog

Big Bear Solar Observatory
Current Solar Diagram
Space Weather

Products / Reviews
Alpine Astronomical
Solar Observing
Solar Max II 60mm
Review Pt. 1
Solar Max II 60mm
Review Pt. 2
"Triple Stacking" a
Solar Max II 90mm
The Solar Explorer

Note: This website is maintained solely for entertainment purposes.