Vernal viewing

Seeing the sun safely at the vernal equinox

March 20, 2013  |  Media Contact: Kevin Stacey |  401-863-3766
A safe sight of spring - Ian Dell’antonio assists Raja MacNeal, 7, of Providence, in using a white-light solar telescope to view Tuesday’s vernal equinox on the patio of the Science Library.
A safe sight of spring Ian Dell’antonio assists Raja MacNeal, 7, of Providence, in using a white-light solar telescope to view Tuesday’s vernal equinox on the patio of the Science Library. Credit: Photos by Mike Cohea/Brown University
Wednesday, March 20, 2013: the first day of spring, when the sun is halfway between its winter low point and summer height.

Students and community members gathered today to celebrate the first day of spring by staring at the sun — safely, through a pair of telescopes set up on the Science Library patio.

Spring in the Northern Hemisphere is ushered in by the vernal equinox, the moment the sun passes over the celestial equator making the amount of daylight and darkness roughly equal. For the last few years, physics professor Ian Dell’antonio, associate professor of physics, and Michael Umbricht, curator of the Ladd Observatory, have celebrated the day by giving people a close-up view of our fiery benefactor.

Lower-techMali’o Kodis ’14 views the sun through an inexpensive pair of paper solar viewing glasses.Lower-tech
Mali’o Kodis ’14 views the sun through an inexpensive pair of paper solar viewing glasses.
The two scopes offered different views of the sun. A hydrogen-alpha solar telescope lets in only light emitted from hydrogen. “Hydrogen emission from the sun comes from the outer layers, so you’re seeing the details of the outer layers of the sun,” Dell’antonio said. The other was a more standard white-light telescope with a mylar filter attached to dim the light. Through that, viewers could make out two distinct sunspots that were visible today. Others, like junior Mali’o Kodis, used low-tech methods: a pair of paper solar viewing glasses to view the sun safely.

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