Seeing Spots Safely


[Sunspot observation by Kris Larsen. Groups of sunspots are labeled]

It might surprise you to learn that the sun is actually variable star – it varies (albeit very slightly) in the amount of light that it sends earthward. The complex and ever-changing magnetic field of the sun creates both brighter than average (faculae) and dimmer than average (sunspots) regions on its visible “surface” (called the photosphere) that are continually changing in size and number. While a given sunspot group or faculae region may last for as little as a day or as long as two months, over a roughly 11-year period the numbers of these active regions waxes and wanes, creating the so-called sunspot cycle. Since the time of Galileo, observers have been monitoring sunspot activity. While this is a fun and scientifically useful activity, it must be done safely, as the sun is the only variable star that poses a danger to your eyesight if you aren’t careful. You should never look directly at the sun with your eyes or any optical equipment unless you are properly using an approved solar filter.

To this end, the Solar Section of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (which I am currently fortunate to serve as president) has recently released a Solar Observing Guide. Written by long-time AAVSO solar observer Frank Dempsey (with additional content by fellow Solar Section members and solar safety experts), this guide is a must for anyone contemplating solar observing. Anyone interesting in taking up this task should also seek the aid of a seasoned mentor to help them get started.

The sun changes every day, and safely observing these changes is an experience that will have you coming back again and again. But “safety first” is a must!

– Kris Larsen




“Nick” is the Star of the Show


[Students from the Academy of Science and Innovation snap selfies with “Nick”]

High school students from the Academy of Science and Innovation in New Britain got a rare treat, posing for selfies with “Nick”, the Spitz 512 planetarium projector at the Copernican Observatory and Planetarium as part of a Friday science program. After the planetarium show, the students visited the Chemistry and Biology Departments to conduct experiments. The next free public planetarium shows are Saturday April 1 and 15 at 8 PM.

Out of This World Research by CCSU Students, Faculty, and Alumni Highlighted at Recent Conferences


[Ian Murphy presenting his poster on Martian craters]

Students, faculty, and alumni of the CCSU Geological Science Department recently shared their planetary science research at two conferences. Ian Murphy and 15 other students attended the Northeast Regional Section of the Geological Society of America conference in Pittsburgh, where he presented his research on Martian craters. At the same time, his faculty advisor, Dr. Jen Piatek (seen below, enjoying some virtual quality time on Mars thanks to green screen technology), attended the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas, where she presented on the work she and Ian have been conducting.


Also presenting at LPSC were three alumni of the department. Jessica Johnson (below left), currently a Masters student at the University of New Mexico, presented on her  meteorite research, while Keenan Golder (below right), currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Tennessee, shared his research on the volcanoes of Mars. Dr. Mike Zanetti, now a postdoc at the University of Western Ontario, gave a talk on his work on lunar volcanism. Congratulations to all of our talented faculty and students (past and present) for their excellent work! You are truly superstars!


Simsbury Public Library talk on The Stars of Middle-earth

Many people don’t realize that fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien was, well, a bit obsessive when it came to getting right the astronomical detail in his tales of Middle-earth. This often led to difficulties, delays, and contradictions. The Simsbury Public Library is hosting a free public talk on Monday, March 27 (6:30 PM) by our own Dr. Kristine Larsen on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Tumultuous Love Affair with Astronomy. For more information, see the library’s website.