Olentangy Valley News

Observatory's event lets your eyes catch some rays

Celebration of the Sun offers up-close, safe look at day star

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Staring directly at the sun can be dangerous, but with the specially designed equipment at the Perkins Observatory, not only is it safe, it's also the focus of a three-weekend-long celebration.

Each July, the observatory changes up its typical weekly astronomy programs to recognize the long days of summer and host what it calls the Celebration of the Sun.

"We started doing these Saturday-afternoon programs because of that pesky daylight savings time that leads to a lack of darkness in July," said observatory Director Tom Burns.

During the Saturday celebrations, visitors use glasses and special telescopes to view the sun, then may take tours of the observatory and launch model rockets.

Eclipse glasses will be on hand to demonstrate the size of the sun, making the 93-million-mile distance between Earth and the sun more relatable, Burns said.

"Astronomers say you could fit 1.3 million Earths inside the sun," he said. "That doesn't mean much to anyone, so we try to show that in a practical way."

Add rainbow glasses on top of those eclipse glasses and visitors will see the true colors of the sun, which Burns said usually comes as a surprise to most viewers.

"You hear people say all the time that the sun is a yellow star, but we will prove to them that it is not," he said.

A white-light telescope can be used to look at sun spots and other detailed features of the day star. The light telescope that Burns built 25 years ago also is able to cast a shadow on the sun, giving it a three-dimensional look that is unique among astronomical objects, he said.

To view explosions caused by the constant uplifting of gases on the sun, visitors can look through a hydrogen alpha telescope.

"The hot upliftings of gas being carried along by the magnetic field of the sun is probably the best part of looking at the sun," Burns said. "They come in all shapes. Some even look like trees sprouting up on the sun."

Burns will kick off each Saturday program by discussing what stars are and how they fit into galaxy. Including his talk, there are about two hours of scheduled programming, but Burns said visitors are invited to linger.

The observatory, an extension of Ohio Wesleyan University, features a gift shop, a library, children's room and static displays and exhibits.

The special Saturday programming, which begins at 4 p.m. July 13, 20 and 27, will afford visitors not just a rare look at the sun, but at the observatory as well.

"The nice thing about doing the tour of the observatory when its daylight is that you can see the 25,000-pound doors opening and you can see the dome spinning around," Burns said.

During nighttime programming, the observatory is completely dark.

"I have seen the roof opening in daylight a thousand times and I still get that sense of vertigo that I'm spinning and not the dome," Burns said.

Just 80 tickets are available for each Celebration of the Sun program. They can be purchased in advance online and cost $8 for adults, $5 for children and seniors.

For tickets and more information about Perkins Observatory programs, visit perkins.owu.edu.

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