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do we have to wait for a solar eclipse?


Total solar eclipses only happen about once every 18 months. So do we have to wait for an eclipse to study the corona? No! To look at the corona without an eclipse, I (Peter) went to the Sacramento Mountains in the New Mexico desert to use one of the largest special solar telescopes in the world. It's called a coronograph.


Coronagraph building credit Peter Gallagher


Normally, it's very difficult to see the corona, since the visible light from the solar surface is a million times brighter than the light from the corona. A coronagraph is very carefully designed to allow us to produce an artificial total eclipse of the Sun whenever we want (so long as the Sun is shining of course!).

I've been using a coronograph to look for waves in the solar atmosphere. If they exist, they might be important in heating the corona - but that's another story!


One of the great things about being an astronomer is that you get the chance to work in interesting places. This is a photo of the Big Bear Observatory, California, USA where I used to work. The observatory is right in the middle of a lake. That's because being surrounded by water means that the atmosphere around the telescope remains very still so that the images of the Sun will be sharp and clear.




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